Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Magus of Hay

Phil Rickman's new book is out - the twelfth in his Merrily Watkins series, about the Diocesan Exorcist (also known as Deliverance Ministry) of Herefordshire - and it's about Hay.
I went to see him speak as part of the Winter Hay Festival on Sunday evening, in the castle (which features in the book), being interviewed by Peter Florence. One of the questions from the audience was why had he waited so long to come to Hay for a story, and his answer was that he was saving it, because Hay has so many good stories associated with it of the sort that he can use for a Merrily Watkins plot. Like Ken Ratcliffe's story of seeing Cusop Dingle lit up as though from within, just for an instant, when he was a young man, which features in the story.
After the talk, I got my arm twisted (they didn't have to twist very hard!) to have dinner at Red Indigo, where Eklim greeted me by saying I was wasting away because I wasn't eating enough curry! The Lamb tikka masalla was very nice indeed, accompanied by good conversation.

I started reading the book (obtained from Addyman's Murder and Mayhem) on Tuesday night, and it was one of those un-put-downable books right from the start. Phil Rickman brings in a couple from an earlier novel, the Crown of Lights, as a pair of beginner booksellers in Backfold. He's added a couple more shops down there, backed up against the Castle wall - and the advice the couple are given about bookselling is absolutely spot on! He mentions Derek Addyman in the credits at the back of the book, and I suspect this is where he got his information from - and being an ex-journalist, he has obviously listened very carefully!
And then he goes and puts his first murder victim in the pool of my favourite waterfall on Cusop Dingle!
Sadly, Jane, Merrily's teenaged daughter, is away learning to be an archaeologist in West Wales, and Lol, her boyfriend, is out on the road performing his music, so Merrily is very much on her own in this story - Phil Rickman said something about not wanting the series to turn into something like Heartbeat!
He has some scathing things to say about Hereford, too. On page 71:
"The City of Hereford seemed to be dying, the way a venerable tree died, from the centre outwards - long-established businesses left to rot while councillors turned away to nurture their doomed, peripheral shopping mall, hand-feeding it with taxpayers' money badly needed elsewhere.
Most people were saying that, but nothing came to save the city."
Which is a concise summing up of the present situation.

Having started the book, I started seeing Phil Rickman's name elsewhere, too. I follow, which has all sorts of information about SF and Fantasy novels and films and comics and TV, and one of the books recommended in a recent round up is December, a non-series book about musicians playing at a ruined Welsh abbey, with paranormal results.
And in SFX Magazine, one of the reviews of paperback re-issues is for The Man in the Moss, Phil Rickman's book about a remote village in his native Lancashire. It's one that I enjoyed very much, partly for the bog body itself, and partly because of the traditional brewery that is involved in some of the action. "Featuring well-drawn characters, this is a powerfully atmospheric read." says the reviewer.

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