Rickman's fourth Merrily Watkins mystery (and ninth book overall) has our diocesian exorcist (or deliverance minister) struggling as always to deal with her life fighting the supernatural and the very real troubles of bringing up her sixteen year old, daughter, Jane, plus her own personal issues. From the start, the chain-smoking minister finds herself having to deal with a claimed case of demonic possession as a previously well brought up and God-fearing teenage girl, Amy Shelbourne, starts renouncing God and refusing to go to Church to the dismay of her devout foster parents. We are quickly given a reason as Amy claims (which we know is a lie from the opening prologue) that Jane forced her into a ouija board session and she met the spirit of her real mother, Justine.
Running concurrently is a plotline involving Lol Robinson (he who denies his true feelings for Merrily) who is back in the recording studios, down the road from Merrily, at Prof Levinson's request to record a new album. Meanwhile, in Knight's Frome we find the new-age squire, Adam Lake, rebuying all the land up that his ancestor lost under a curse. The story runs that if you see the ghost of centuries-ago murdered Lady of the Bines (whom Lol inadvertently runs into very early on) then your hop harvest will fail. Lake runs into a PR adversary, Gerard Stock, the son-in-law of the recently murdered Stewart who has inherited land that Lake wants to rebuy. As such a very neighbourly feud takes on a supernatural slant as Stock goes to the papers after the local vicar, Simon St John, refuses to perform an exorcism on the place that Stock, claims is haunted.
By the time we make it halfway through, Amy Shelbourne has attempted suicide and Merrily is called into Stock's house to perform the first exorcism (or `Cure of Souls'). It is at this point the novel begins to move as Stock not only records Lol and Merrily's incursion but also his immediate brutal killing of his wife. Amy runs away and her father is forced to explain to Merrily how Amy's real mother was killed in a church whilst a 3-year old Amy watched from the altar. Suddenly it all becomes more chilling as Merrily confronts Layla Riddock and her stepfather. Meanwhile the, as yet unfathomably linked, second plot has Gerard Stock killing himself before we finally begin to piece behind the true mystery of the Lady of the Bines and an unknown murder in the 60s that is causing the haunting of the kiln by a succubus. In a strange twist it is actually Jane and Eirion who come back from Wales to move the entire story to its bloody denouement as we learn that our protagonists are capable of great character misjudgement and what appears to be truth is inevitably incorrect.
To be honest, this isn't Rickman's finest effort. I felt that the move towards a Merrily Watkins series has taken away the polished supernatural edge books like Crybbe and December possessed. The first half of this book is given over to establishing mystery of the intellectually confusing kind, rather than previous efforts which spent the first half ever so slowly building up a sense of creeping, chilly supernatural fear. Simply put, whilst you wouldn't read Crybbe on a dark, stormy night, you could quite cheerfully skim through this effort. Nevertheless, Rickman's currently the finest supernatural thriller writer out there right now and this is the kind of quality effort you'd expect.