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Mean Spirit

Will Kingdom (Phil Rickman)

TransWorld / Bantam Press

UK Trade Paperback First Original

ISBN 0-593-04896-2

Publication Date: 06-2001

441 Pages; £9.99

Date Reviewed: 07-10-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Mystery, Horror

01-26-02, 02-05-02, 03-07-02, 04-29-02, 07-02-02, 07-15-02

Sometimes, a bang-up page-turning plot can help bring a novel and a series to life. 'The Cold Calling', Phil Rickman's first novel written as Will Kingdom definitely got a grip on the readers' throats from page one. But as with any good novel, what kept the pages turning was the cast of fascinating and three-dimensional characters he created to propel his serial-killer thriller plot. And it wasn't just the killer, who in the novel (as it often happens in reality) was the least interesting of the bunch. Bobby Maiden, the re-vivified DI, Marcus Bacton, the irritable editor of 'The Phenomenologist', Grayle Underhill, the new-age columnist, Andy the faith-healing nurse and Cindy Lewis-Mars, the cross-dressing shaman were the kind of characters who were all so appealing that the reader couldn't wait to get from one track to another as Rickman-cum-Kingdom wove the threads of his dense narrative into a compelling tapestry. They're all back again in 'Mean Spirit', which has a fascinating plot that takes a while to get rolling. Once it does, prepare for the same sort of page-turning experience provided by 'The Cold Calling'. Just don't expect it to start on page one.

Page one will however, introduce Seffi (Persephone) Callard, a one-time student of Marcus Bacton who demonstrated psychic powers when he was her teacher in school. Now, the black medium has conducted a devastating séance that Rickman draws with chilling clarity. The upshot finds Grayle Underhill travelling into some particularly unpleasant rural territory for an interview with a now-reclusive Callard. The medium has encountered a presence on her journeys that is now hounding her every attempt to enter the psychic world. But the very much alive men who attempt to kidnap Callard are a far more threatening, real and present danger. It's so surprise that Grayle, Marcus and Callard end up calling on Bobby Maiden, the 'new-age' cop with an old-time attitude of weary resignation. Cindy Lewis-Mars, now the iconic, ironic presenter for the national lottery has managed to embarrass a leading hypnotist on national TV. He's clearly made himself an implacable enemy.

As the threads connect, readers can enjoy the usual pleasures of a Rickman/Kingdom novel. Maiden is back on the force, but not well liked, having been the only straight cop in his otherwise crooked shop. As Kingdom, Rickman does the crime stuff so well one is tempted to wish that he might do without the psychic hotline. But then he pulls off some deft transcendent description, and that wish goes out the window. More than ever, 'Mean Spirit' shows Rickman's deft touch with characters, particularly Cindy Lewis-Mars, who is so outrageously appealing that readers will also be tempted to hope that a CLM-only bit is in the offing as well. But that's the rub with the Will Kingdom novels -- every character is so enjoyable, one is tempted to think that they could all go solo.

But it's the weave that makes the whole so enjoyable. 'Mean Spirit' offers the reader a much more enjoyable cast of antagonists, from the urbanely violent Gary Seward, a con who wrote a book in the slammer and came out a celebrity to the unctuous and oily Kurt Campbell. Rickman/Kingdom's plotting brings all the players together in a well-orchestrated series of scenes and twists that will eventually have readers turning the pages as fast as possible to see how it all plays out.

'Mean Spirit' does suffer a bit in comparison to the nail biting tension that characterized 'The Cold Calling', but only slightly. Like its predecessor, it offers a very unique combination of crime thriller and psychic what-done-it. Nobody else out there is doing anything remotely like this. In Will Kingdom, P. D. James meets M. R. James. It's a marriage that could only be made in another plane, one from which readers will never want to return.