Rickman, Phil - 'To Dream of the Dead'
TO DREAM OF THE DEAD is the latest instalment in this series set in Ledwardine, a fictional Herefordshire village in the Welsh borders featuring female vicar and local exorcist Merrily Watkins and her pagan teenage daughter Jane.
As the book opens in the run up to Christmas, the river is starting to burst its banks, and Ledwardine is in danger of flooding. Village tension is also mounting, as the excavation of historic standing stones is putting a spanner in the works of local bigwigs' plans to redevelop Coleman's meadow for executive housing. Bumptious TV architect Blore plus camera crew are in charge of the excavation, and Jane and the local council are shut out. In the meantime, a local politician is found dead in a particularly gruesome manner in a deserted Hereford monastery, with traces left on the body related to another historical find, the Dinedor serpent. As this local politician approved the building of a new road on the site of the serpent, the local environmentalist and pagan community come under suspicion. Merrily's old friend, DI Franny Bliss however suspects rather more prosaic motives are behind the murder, and despite his superior officer, "Ice Maiden" Annie Howe's disapproval, starts to cast around the political fraternity for further information. Despite herself, Merrily becomes involved in the investigation as the victim's widow is a friend of her colleague, diocese secretary Sophie, and because the police see her daughter Jane as a vital source of information regarding the pagan community under suspicion. Merrily also feels under professional pressure when she finds out that an aggressively atheist author in the mould of Richard Dawkins has moved into the area under a false name.
TO DREAM OF THE DEAD has a slightly different feel to earlier books in the series as the emphasis is more upon the police investigation than upon Merrily's unusual work as the local exorcist. But in other respects it is business as usual. Phil Rickman manages to neatly reconcile the various strands of plot to provide a satisfying, dramatic conclusion, and characterisation and dialogue are sharp and witty; the author provides a neat satire on village life in the "new Cotswolds" and the relationships between local inhabitants and the newcomers who attempt to gentrify the area. I look forward to further books in this series, but do hope that the next book has more of a focus on Merrily and the spiritual and potentially supernatural elements behind crime and traumatic events.
Laura Root, England