Author: Phil Rickman
Synopsis: The Rev. Merrily Watkins had never wanted a picture-postcard parish- or a huge and haunted vicarage. Nor had she particularly wanted to walk straight into a local dispute over a controversial play about a strange seventeenth-century clergyman accused of witchcraft… a story that certain old-established families would rather remained obscure.
But this is Ledwardine, steeped in cider and secrets. A paradise of cobbled streets and timber-framed houses. And also- as Merrily and her teenage daughter Jane discover- a village where horrific murder is a tradition that spans centuries.
My Thoughts: An idyllic English village, a haunted orchard and a local legend about a devil-worshipping vicar… you don’t even need to read the first chapter to know that this book is positively ideal for a Halloween read. The story is centred on Merrily as she moves into the village parish of Ledwardine and tries to fit in with the locals, who are very set in tradition and aren’t too keen on strangers to the town. Meanwhile her teenage daughter Jane is enchanted by the superstitions surrounding the village and stumbles upon long-buried, supernatural secrets.
I’m not sure if this book can truly be classed as fantasy, but there is certainly an element of the supernatural about it. It’s a dark and subtle ghost story, without going into keep-you-up-at-night territory. The author is also really good at cliff-hangers, and there’s a perfect balance of revealing just enough to keep the tension going. I love the motif of apples and cider that runs throughout- though I’m not sure it’s possible to make a fruit truly menacing.
As a mystery story set in a small village, there are a lot of characters to be introduced. This is slightly confusing to begin with, but the author gives small clues to remind us of who each person is (though I could have done with a few more to jog my memory later on). Merrily is a refreshing change to the usual action-hero types you see a lot of in fantasy; she doesn’t go looking for trouble and isn’t particularly brave, and yet she still holds her own despite the difficulties she faces. Her daughter Jane initially feels like a stereotypical teenager, but she grew on me as I read. The village characters all have secrets and motives of their own, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the quiet and awkward Lol Robinson.
There are so many threads of plot woven through the story, and in the last few chapters the author ties them all up brilliantly in a way that I didn’t see coming. The last few pages seem to end a little abruptly, but this made it more memorable. I’m interested to see where the series will lead after this- apparently there are twelve books in total, and since everything appears to have been tied off neatly I’m not sure how the story will pick up again, but I’ll certainly give them a try in the future. If you like mysteries or want something creepy to read for October, I would really recommend this series.
In Short: Creepy supernatural mystery complete with a not-so-idyllic English village and a haunted orchard. The author reveals just enough of the supernatural to keep tension high, and the ultimate tying-up in the last few chapters is absolutely riveting. A great Halloween read. 8/10