MERRILY WATKINS – BINGE READING

I had a binge over Christmas which only finished at the weekend just gone.

No, not booze and food – hardly touch alcohol these days, and I don’t need a festive excuse for eating, unfortunately.

No, this was reading, and in particular one author and one particular series in that author’s output. The writer is Phil Rickman and the series was his Merrily Watkins books. Now this isn’t high art literature, but they are very well written, superbly crafted and brilliantly entertaining. Sure some are obviously better than others but all are worth reading, none feels like a pot boiler and the thread over the series is consistent and realistically moves forward.

The main protagonist and those around her (she is a Cof E minister) age and their situation changes and moves forward – not as fast as real time of course, the first book came out in 1998 and the next one is due in 2021 but we are still looking at somewhere in the very early 2000s. This is great – very often in successful genre series, readers want, and get, repeat outings without real time apparently intervening at all. Detectives in particular seem immune from ageing and character development (there are notable and honourable exceptions).

Watkins isn’t a detective in the professional sense, neither is she a Miss Marple type character – she often gets involved in criminal cases but only as a spin off from the work she carries out as a ‘Deliverance Consultant’; an exorcist rebadged for a postmodern, post truth, secular age. She does not deliver anyone for judicial decision making however, she leaves that up to the local police, some of whom she has a working relationship with.

Anyway, fourteen books since just before Christmas, most of them between four and five hundred pages long was no chore at all, and I am disappointed the wait will be so long for the next episode.

The thing that grabbed me apart from the joy of reading them however was how they cross genre divides. Watkins is an exorcist and a mother with child and there are mixed threads of criminal investigation, supernatural (possibly) investigations and personal development.

I had an idea some years ago for a book about a character who was involved in a plot that was about personal development and relationships, but halfway through he took a short holiday to go and deal with his other obsession and ‘hobby’ of disposing of supernatural evil. I envisaged a possible series where in each book he moved forward in his life accompanied by excursions against vampires, ghosts, spirits etc. some of which eventually crossed over into his ordinary life and the threads would eventually became entangled.

I was told in no uncertain terms that this mixing of genres would definitely not work and wouldn’t sell, even if I could persuade a mug to publish one or two of the series. Of course I bowed to ‘professional’ advice – big mistake (no it wasn’t Mr Rickman who told me to forget it, and his stuff is no doubt miles ahead of the material I would have produced in this quest). However it is nice to see someone who had a similar idea but made it work so effectively.

Each book can be read as a stand alone novel but it is probably best to start with The Wine of Angels and progress in order to All of a Winter’s Night in preparation for ‘For the Hell of It’ next year.

Probably best if I write a bit more myself – should be easier now I have exhausted this particular series of distractions/inspiration until April 2021.

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