All of a Winter's Night by Phil Rickman

Image result for all of a winter's nightAll of a Winter's Night is the fourteenth - fourteenth! - book in Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series. For those who don't know, Merrily is a Church of England priest with a parish in Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border, and is also a deliverance minister, trained to deal with reported cases of hauntings and similar spiritual disturbances. The Merrily Watkins books are probably best thought of as crime mysteries with a supernatural edge.

I won't go into more detail about the background to the series, not least because I've already reviewed a few of the books and I'd be going over old ground (enter 'Phil Rickman' in the search box at the top right of the page if you'd like to see the other reviews), but I will say that I think this is one of the strongest instalments in the series.

It opens with Merrily and Jane investigating a night-time disturbance in the churchyard next to the vicarage, where some men seem to be gathering at the grave of a young man recently killed in a quad bike accident. What unfolds is an eerie tale of murder, folk ritual, blood feuds and mysticism, but there are also more worldly subplots involving corrupt local politics and criminals from Eastern Europe, plus the ever-present threat of Merrily losing her deliverance role and being moved to a parish away from her beloved Ledwardine.

This book feels like vintage Merrily Watkins, with lots of familiar characters playing an integral role to the plot and Merrily herself playing a pivotal role in driving the action forward. The development of the characters over the course of the series is, along with the powerful sense of place, one of the strongest elements of Phil Rickman's writing. It also goes beyond eeriness and atmosphere and into full-on folk horror at times, and it does so wholly successfully.