The Prayer of the Night Shepherd

Article excerpt

The Prayer of the Night Shepherd. By Phil Rickman. London: MacMillan, 2004. £16.99 (cloth); £6.99/$8.99 (paper).

Deliverance ministry on the geographical edge of the Church of England may not seem the most promising of settings for a series of mystery novels, but this is now the sixth in an increasingly successful series involving the Rev. Merrily Watkins, "exorcist" in the Diocese of Hereford. Author Phil Rickman is the host of a literary radio show and a regular at the world renowned Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature. Like the present Archbishop of Canterbury he is inspired by Celtic spirituality and the eccentric musings of the Incredible String Band. Rickman originally conceived of Merrily Watkins as a secondary character in the first book (The Wine of Angels, 1998), but she was such a compelling figure that she became the focus for that and subsequent stories. The widowed Mrs. Watkins is now in her late thirties and struggling to raise Jane, her teenage daughter, who is more interested in unconventional paganism than in conventional piety.

This tale centers on the claim that the origins of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles lie not on Dartmoor, where the story was set, but in Herefordshire. A redundant TV producer has bought a rambling Victorian hall which is now a struggling hotel and where Jane Watkins is working. Against this backdrop, Conan Doyle's own fascination with spiritualism is interwoven with medieval legend and contemporary themes-notably how the inheritance of families extends well beyond the purely material, which is a recurring theme in Rickman's work. …

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