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The Remains of an Altar (A Merrily Watkins Mystery) [Paperback]

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Item description for The Remains of an Altar (A Merrily Watkins Mystery) by Phil Rickman...

In 1934, the dying composer Sir Edward Elgar feebly whistled to a friend the theme from his Cello Concerto and said, "If you're walking on the Malvern Hills and hear that, don't be frightened. It's only me." Seventy years later, Merrily Watkins---parish priest and Deliverance Consultant to the Diocese of Hereford---is called in to investigate an alleged paranormal dimension in a spate of road accidents in the Malvern village of Wychehill. There, Merrily discovers new tensions in Elgar's countryside. The proposed takeover of a local pub by a nightclub owner with a criminal reputation has become the battleground between the defenders of Olde Englande and the hard men of the drug world---with extreme and sinister elements on both sides. And as the choral society prepares to stage an open-air performance of Elgar's Caractacus at a prehistoric hill fort, the deaths begin...Another spellbinding thriller in Phil Rickman's lauded occult mystery series.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   544
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.13" Width: 5.98" Height: 1.42"
Weight:   1.54 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 2006
Publisher   Quercus
ISBN  1905204523  
ISBN13  9781905204526  

Availability  0 units.

More About Phil Rickman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Phil Rickman lives on the Welsh border where he writes and presents the book programme Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales. He is the author of seven previous Merrily Watkins' Mysteries, introducing the Reverend in The Wine of Angels, and charting her career as the diocesan exorcist with Midwinter of the Spirit, A Crown of Lights, The Cure of Souls, The Lamp of the Wicked, The Prayer of the Night Shepherd and The Smile of a Ghost.

Phil Rickman has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Merrily Watkins Mysteries

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Mystery & Thrillers > General
2Books > Subjects > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > General
3Books > Subjects > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Women Sleuths
4Books > Subjects > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Remains of an Altar (A Merrily Watkins Mystery)?

"The ancient high places...  Nov 13, 2007
The Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, England is a rural area which has begun to become a fashionable address for gentry who have decided to desert city life. It offers pleasant vistas and a more or less relaxed lifestyle, and is most famous are the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. Just the place for Phil Rickman to place one of his stories about Merrily Watkins - minister, exorcist, and detective.

In the town of Wychehill Elgar is something of an industry, perhaps the only industry, with a church suited to large musical productions, a large collection of suburban supporters, and nothing else to say for itself. Oh, except for a new night club that makes more noise than the rest of the valley combined. And when a terrible accident that seems to involve the night club, drugs, and the ghost of Edward Elgar happens it is inevitable that Merrily will be called on to make sure that the dark world of the soul doesn't intrude on the lives of the townsfolk. Caught up in the dark beat of the night club, the rumors of ghosts, and the twisted lives of the inhabitants Merrily is stretched to her limits. This is one of those mysteries that offer no simple or comforting solutions.

Merrily's daughter Jane plays a starring part of her own again. She discovers that the area is host to any number of spiritual significances. A local ley line lays carefully hidden and the march of development threatens that layer of prehistory spirituality that haunts many parts of England and Wales. Jane, who is always susceptible to having causes takes up the preservation of the Ley line and quickly offends the more forward looking of Wychehill's residents.

Once again Rickman weaves a story on many levels full of characters new and old. He has an unmistakably powerful style that imbues evens with a menace that transcends the horror story and creates detective fiction with the complexities of doubt and faith. I have also come to enjoy the loving detail of his descriptions and enactments of life in the English countryside only a hope and a skip from Wales. By all means go back and hunt up the early volumes in this series and prepare to go on unexpected adventures that cross genres with nary a blink.
"The trees are singing my music. Or have I sung theirs?"   Aug 22, 2007
Merrily Watkins, Ledwardine parish priest and Deliverance Consultant (exorcist) for the Diocese of Hereford is stretched very thin in this eighth installment of a series that started with "The Wine of Angels" in 1998. Drugs, traffic accidents, and a ghost (possibly of composer Edward Elgar and his faithful bicycle, Phoebus) haunt the pages of this book. Rickman's subplots are just as engrossing as his main plots, and this mystery with supernatural overtones is, I think, the best so far of his Merrily Watkins novels.

Rickman, whose skills (as one of his characters puts it) have, "for too long, been squandered on three-chord wonders" finally integrates an English classical composer into one of his plots, where music always exists in one form or another--usually in the personage of Merrily's hapless boyfriend and folk-rock composer, Lol. This time Edward Elgar and his music take center stage, spooky bits and all. Even though he is not one of my favorite composers, I wanted to rush out and buy his oratorio, "The Dream of Gerontius" after finishing this novel. Rickman does an amazing job of integrating this Edwardian composer into the midst of a 21st century bloodscape of unexplained traffic fatalities, drugs, and murder. When Merrily is invited to exorcise the ghost that is supposedly causing the traffic accidents, she learns more about Elgar and the mystical Order of the Golden Dawn than any right-thinking Anglican priest should ever need to know.

Meanwhile, Merrily's teenage daughter, Jane embarks on a quixotic quest to Save the Ley Lines, that threatens to get her expelled from school when she tries to prevent the `development' of a local prehistoric site. At least she thinks the old cow pasture harbors a prehistoric monument. One of my favorite Rickman characters, old Gomer Parry, the manic digger-for-hire teams up with Jane, so I knew there was going to be a bang-up (I'm speaking literally, here) confrontation with the crooked developers, and I was not disappointed. Jane truly comes of age in "The Remains of an Altar." Gomer remains his feisty old self.

The two story lines are meshed elegantly together at story's end. As Merrily is standing under a statue of the Angel of the Agony (a character from Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius") and listening to a church choir sing the composer's music, her part of this story comes to a quietly eerie end. A short while later Jane's story also ends perfectly (although with a bit of off-stage assistance). Rickman fans will love this book, and readers new to this author should start with "The Wine of Angels" and read their way right through to the end of this complex, compassionate crime series.
Another Chapter in a Long Story  Jun 10, 2007
The latest book in the continuing saga of Merrily Watkins, Vicar of Ledwardine and Deliverance Consultant to the Diocese of Hereford, may very well be one of the best. I have long thought that the late, great Ed McBain's 87 Precinct series was really one novel with over 50 parts and I think that Phil Rickman is well on the way to accomplishing the same thing with these books. After a series of really good horror novels (December is a classic) he changed direction and began writing mysteries with a touch of the supernatural. The locale is the Border country of Herefordshire, a place steeped in ancient history.

This book is brimming with interesting characters including Merrily, her 17 year old Daughter Jane, Lol Robinson and Gomer Parry, people we know and are always glad to see. This time there is the Rev. Syd Spicer, a former member of the SAS (think Special Ops in the US, but tougher) who doesn't seem too sure about how to handle his new profession and a return visit with the irascible Athena White. Like Mark Twain, Rickman writes dialogue in accents so authentic you can practically hear them. Conversations are so real you would think he overheard them instead of making them up.

Rickman is ever the master of misdirection. You may think you know what is happening but you will be proved wrong with a series of twists in the last chapters where the whole story is pulled together beautifully. No loose ends from this author.

There are a lot of books on the bestseller list that are done by talented hacks who throw them together quickly to please their legions of fans and that's alright for those who enjoy them but, with Rickman's books you are reading something very well written and carefully researched. Never stodgy but very modern and with a lot of humor, he will teach you fascinating things about the place where he lives.

Some have complained that this novel has no ghosts. Well, this is England, folks. The country is saturated with them. If you don't find them in the book, trust me, they are there, just lurking around the corner.


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