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Rickman, Phil - 'The Prayer of the Night Shepherd'
Paperback: 624 pages (Feb. 2012) Publisher: Atlantic Books ISBN: 085789014X

Merrily Watkins is a vicar in a rural parish in Hereford. She is also a Deliverance Minister, the diocesan exorcist - the person that is called in when people or places are thought to be haunted. She is a widow, with a teenage daughter and a lover, Lol, a musician. A Sunday evening prayer and meditation group led by Merrily is a quiet success until it is claimed that the prayers have healed a woman who was dying. The group starts to receive unwelcome attention and people start having more expectation of Merrily's ability to heal.

Jeremy, farms a small farm, the Nant, which is surrounded by land owned by the local magistrate, Simon Dacre. Dacre wants the Nant and seems prepared to do anything to force the sale, even to threatening Jeremy, his mysterious girlfriend, Natalie and her daughter. Dacre is also obsessed with the local legend of the big black dog that is seen whenever a member of a local family, the Vaughans, is about to die. Several people claim to have seen the dog, but no known member of the Vaughans is now living.

Merrily's daughter, Jane,has just landed her first weekend job at Stanner Hall Hotel isolated on the border of England and Wales. The owners, Amber and Ben are struggling to make a living and are hoping that a tenuous local link with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his book The Hound of the Baskervilles will turn around their fortunes and make their new venture a success. Ben has an idea to use his former television contacts to make a film about the Conan Doyle link and the history of the house and its former owners. Jane is asked to help with the filming but Merrily is concerned about what she is being dragged into.

Merrily finds herself trying to maintain a realistic expectation concerning healing, her need to be closer to Lol without upsetting her parishioners, the impact of the actions of Simon Dacre on Jeremy and her concerns about her daughter while her awareness of something dark and overpowering on the borderland is growing. Then a body is found at the bottom of Stanner Rocks.

The borderland between Wales and England is a land full of myth, stories and legend and Phil Rickman has built from these a story that I could quite believe was true. His writing style is so descriptive with emotive language that makes picturing the scene so easy. The heavy snow scenes, the quiet of the night when everything is shrouded in snow and ice, when you feel anything could happen, is brought to life in this book.

Merrily Wakins was first introduced in THE WINE OF ANGELS and this book is the sixth in the series. The characters obviously develop across the series but each can be read quite comfortably as a stand-alone.

THE PRAYER OF THE NIGHT SHEPHERD is a good read for a winter's day or even a sunny beach.

Susan White, England
March 2012

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 24/03/2012 16:21