Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Cure of Souls

The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman is the fourth book in his 'Merrily Watkins' series of books set in Herefordshire, an English county on the border with Wales. Merrily is a vicar who deals with paranormal activity, to give her her correct title, the Diocesan Deliverance Consultant.

The village of Knight's Frome is the setting for this instalment of the series. Merrily's close friend, Lol Robinson, is currently living there on a sort of musical sabatical with a famous record producer, 'Prof' Levin. He can see that Lol, who walked away from the music industry for reasons which become clear later in the book, should still be writing and producing music. Prof has a neighbour he can't stand, Gerard Stock, who lives nearby, with his wife, in a converted hop kiln. Stock is convinced the kiln is haunted and that the spirit is malevolent. Merrily is asked to look into this because the local vicar, also a friend of Prof's, will not touch it.

Merrily of course has other problems. She sees her daughter, Jane, off on a holiday to Wales: she's staying with her boyfriend's family. Jane has a secret... she was unwillingly involved in a ouija board session in a hut in the grounds of her school. She thinks it's over and done with but unfortunately it's not. The parents of one of the girls also involved report that they believe their daughter is possessed by an evil spirit.

It's a hot, humid, oppressive summer. Merrily and Lol, who have not seen each other in months, must work together to find out what secrets the village of Knight's Frome is keeping. Is there a connection with the gypsies who used to help pick the hops, some of whom still live in the area? They are a secretive race who are often paranormally sensitive, what do they know about the death of the previous owner of the kiln and the subsequent haunting? And how can Merrily convince them to trust her. In fact, how can she convince 'anyone' to trust her and take her seriously?

Well, it's been eight years since I read book three in this series. I honestly had no idea it was that long. The thing is, working my way through The Cure of Souls I can actually see why I've ignored the series for so long. Merrily is quite annoying. Indecisive, guilt ridden, she borders on incompetent at times and I lost patience quite a lot. To the point where I felt like giving up on the book. The thing is, the writing is excellent, which is why I didn't really want to give up... I did want to know what was going on in the village and who was doing what to whom. I think the instruction 'Trust no one' applies to the plot and that aspect of it did please me. And the setting in Herefordshire is delightful, it's a gorgeous, rural county, beautifully described by the author. Will I carry on with this series now? I doubt it. I don't enjoy being irritated by the main characters in a book, to the point where I want to give them a shake and tell them to get a grip. Big shame. But there you go, win some, lose some. And this is a very popular series which a lot of people love so it's undoubtedly 'me', not the books.



DesLily said...

It's very hard to finish a book that you aren't "enjoying". I've had my fill of WWII but will finish The Murrow Boys one chapter at a time between other reads!! Sometimes it is just time for a new series eh?!

Kay said...

I'm glad to hear about your reaction to this book, Cath. I've tried to read the first one in the series more than once and not been successful. It's been a while so I can't remember exactly what the problem was. Normally, this type of book would be like catnip to me. I also keep meaning to try John Connolly's series that you love - Charlie Parker is it? I'll try to make that one a priority in upcoming months.

TracyK said...

Your review here is good timing for me. I just finished the second book, Midwinter of the Spirit, late last night. My thoughts are that I was willing to read all 540ish pages because I like the writing and I like the characters. I agree Merrily can be annoying but in Midwinter of the Spirit her indecisiveness seems OK because she is being pulled from all sides and she is new to the job. This sounds to me like other series I have a problem with where the same old situations (relationship wise and behavioral) continue from book to book with no resolution... very irritating. Will I continue on to book 3? Depends on if I find an inexpensive copy, and even then I would wait a while. I find the background of the church interesting but it is hard to see how this premise could fill over 10 very long books.

Cath said...

Pat: I must admit I do find it a bit dispiriting to be in the middle of a book that's annoying and irritating me. The trouble is, it wasn't annoying me enough to make me abandon it. There were things about it I liked and I wanted to know the outcome. Yup, you're right sometimes it is just time for something different or a new series. LOL

Kay: Oh, that's weird, eh? So it isn't just me, something wasn't right for you too.

Yes, Charlie Parker. The two series sound similar and I suppose in a religious context they are, but there's nothing negative or indecisive about Mr. Parker. Oh my word. I love that series. Oddly though, I've never read the first book in the series, I started with book 2, so I need to make reading book 1 a priority too this year.

Tracy: I think you've hit the nail right on the head. Thank you because I hadn't quite realised 'what' was annoying me so much. It seems it might be that Merrily at the end of book 4 is every bit as dithery and indecisive as she was in book 1. What I don't know is whether this continues right up to book 10. I'm not sure I want to read all of them in order to find out. It's hard, because like you I find the church background interesting and the setting of Herefordshire wonderful.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Your post and the comments are very interesting to me because I bought the first 4 Merrily Watkins books - ebooks all for 99p a few years ago (one of those Amazon Today's Big Deals) - because I liked their descriptions and I had read Phil Rickman's first book about Dr Dee - The Bones of Avalon - which I enjoyed. But I haven't read any of the MW books so far. Like Kay I've tried to read the first one more than once and not been successful - it just didn't grab my attention and like Kay I can't remember why, but it was 7 years ago!!!

That'll teach me not to buy more than one book at a time. I'll have to give the first book another chance though.

Cath said...

Margaret: Oh yes, I've certainly done that before... been convinced I'll like a series and bought a load of them for Kindle on the offchance. Not a good idea. I try these days to get book 1 from the library first then I've only wasted 75p, nothing if they have it in large print.

Interesting that you've had the same experience as Kay with the MW books. It doesn't surprise me to be honest. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but now I've read 4 I can look back and see that I probably should have stopped reading after the first couple.