The main character, Merrily Watkins, is a recently widowed single mother of a teenage daughter. Her first job as a vicar in the Church of England is in a small town in Herefordshire. At the beginning, there is a death (by shotgun) which could be the result of an accident or suicide. Later a teenager (a friend of her daughter) goes missing. There are suggestions of supernatural elements involved, both in these incidents and in other strange happenings in the village, but they are subtle. Publisher's Weekly described it as "a first-rate thriller with supernatural overtones".
I loved this book, every page of it, and I only hope I can explain why. For a nearly 600 page book I got through it quickly, and I was eager to come back to it any opportunity I had. It met all my expectations.
The story centers around three characters: Merrily; Jane, her daughter; and Lol Robinson. The narrative moves back and forth between those three character's point of view. I like this kind of story, but it can be confusing or irritating to some readers. The setting seemed well done to me. I cannot speak to how accurate it is, but the book is definitely atmospheric. The series has gotten a lot of praise from readers for the effectiveness of the setting.
The characterization is wonderful. All of the main characters are well fleshed out but especially Merrily and Jane. Jane rejects her mother's religious beliefs, and like many teenagers, is embarrassed by her mother. Lol Robinson, a newcomer to the community, is another significant characterer . The author takes a while explain Lol's backstory and connections with other characters, and I liked the slow revelation of where he fits in. Also, the characters are all realistic; all have flaws. They are mostly likable but far from perfect. The various townspeople are interesting and convincing, at least to someone who doesn't know a lot about various parts of the UK.
This book is also interesting because it highlights the difficulties of being a woman priest.
As if having a woman priest in the family wasn’t enough, her mother, from the safety of suburban Cheltenham, had been out of her mind when Merrily had gone as a curate to inner-city Liverpool, all concrete and drugs and domestic violence. Running youth clubs and refuges for prozzies and rent boys. Terrific, Jane had thought. Cathartic, Merrily had found.
While her mother was putting out feelers.
Good old Ted had come up with the goods inside a year. The vicar of Ledwardine was retiring. Beautiful Ledwardine, only an hour or so’s drive from Cheltenham. And Ted was not only senior church warden but used to be the bishop’s solicitor. No string-pulling, of course; she’d only get the job if she was considered up to it and the other candidates were weak… which, at less than fifteen grand a year, they almost certainly would be.
‘You’ve had a stressful time,’ Ted said. He’d never asked her why she’d abandoned the law for the Church.In those few paragraphs, we learn a lot about Merrily, why she is where she is, and the pressures she experiences.
If I was looking for a book with exorcisms I would have been disappointed. This book is really the set-up to future books with more of that element. The author says that the first book was not supposed to be the beginning of a series, and is different from the rest of the series.
It all started with The Wine of Angels, which is not really representative of the rest of the series. It began as a standalone, and Merrily Watkins wasn't even going to be the main character. It was just that I had a story in need of a woman vicar.I will be reading more of this series. The length and the supernatural elements will deter some readers. I hope to hear from others who have read this book or this series with their opinions. Although I found this book to be a fast read with good pacing, my experience differed from that of some reviewers, who complained that it dragged in spots.
See reviews at: read_warbler and Kittling Books.
Publisher: Corvus, 2011 (orig. pub, 1999)
Length: 589 pages
Format: trade paperback
Series: Merrily Watkins, #1
Setting: small town in Herefordshire, UK
Source: purchased my copy