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.