HelenEdith's Blog

The minutiae of my life, plus website updates and book reviews

Book Review: Phil Rickman – The Remains of an Altar

Posted by HelenEdith on November 29, 2008

(A Merrily Watkins Mystery)

This is not the first Merrily Watkins mystery, but it’s the first one I picked up, and turned out to be an excellent choice. The story stands up in its own right and the fact that it is preceded by seven other novels did not detract from the reading, although having met Merrily Watkins, I may well now go back and read some of those other books.

This book starts with a fatal car crash in a fictional village in the Malvern Hills where the road is turning into something of an accident black spot. Some of the locals are saying that the road is haunted by a man on a bicycle and the services of Merrily Watkins, a woman priest with duties of deliverance, who investigates such odd bumps in the night is called in.

She finds an interesting collection of villagers, including an Elgar obsessed musician who rehearses a choir in the local church, and wants to put on Dream of Gerontius. Several villagers claim to have seen the ghostly man on his bicycle, and while some want him gone, others say that he is Sir Edward Elgar and he should be allowed to continue riding Mr Phoebus, because you mustn’t take Elgar out of the Malvern Hills.

The local priest is an ex-SAS man with a few secrets of his own, and Merrily doesn’t think he’s telling her everything he knows. In fact, when a local drug dealer turns up murdered up in the hills, you have to wonder what his involvement is. He would certainly have the skills!

Meanwhile, back at Merrily’s vicarage, her daughter Jane is getting into trouble all of her own, and with Merrily up at Wychehill on deliverance business, Jane’s activities are going largely unmonitored. Jane manages to get herself into a lot of bother with the governors of the school she attends, as Jane is on a mission to show that a field which is about to be developed actually contains an ancient track and should be preserved, but the school governors are friendly with people on the local council who in turn are friendly with the developers!

Things get quite interesting with murder happening up in Wychehill and protestors in Merrily’s home village.

The two threads of the story never quite merge into one, but Rickman manages to solve the murders at Wychehill and get Jane out of her jam in Ledwardine.

Some of the places in the book are fictional, but many exist, and the picture which is painted of Elgar in the course of the book is one which introduced me to facets of Elgar that I’m sure are available in his biographical details, but had never really come to life for me before.

I will be looking out for more from Phil Rickman.

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