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The Cold Calling

Will Kingdom (Phil Rickman)

Corgi / TransWorld

UK Mass Market Paperback Original

ISBN 0-552-14584-X

Publication Date: 1998

495 Pages; £5.99

Date Reviewed: 07-05-02

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

Antiquity -- not mere age -- does confer authority. Hundreds-of-years old houses, though they can be sold as castles might just be pieces of junk. But true antiquity -- more than thousands of years -- can turn a hillock in the seat of the gods. At least, according modern day pagans, believers in ley lines and psychopathic killers. 'The Cold Calling' makes a great case for all those clashing beliefs simultaneously by creating characters the reader absolutely loves to join on the printed page and enmeshing them in a complex, tension-filled hunt for a serial killer whom the police will not acknowledge even exists. Packed with arcane research, authentic locales and engaging characters 'The Cold Calling' is a supernaturally informed mystery that seems much too mature for a first novel. And the fact is that since Will Kingdom is a pseudonym for Phil Rickman, it's not a first novel. Rickman's in top form with 'The Cold Calling', which starts as a taut crime thriller and gradually grows into something much more interesting.

As 'The Cold Calling' begins, The Green Man is murdering a hunt saboteur near an ancient mound. Unfortunately, only one man, who has made a career out of dressing like a woman, has figured out why that murder -- and others -- are taking place. DI Bobby Maiden has come too close to a cozy friendship between his superiors and the aging gangster who controls the drug trade in the suburb of Elham. Sought out for purchase by the gangster's daughter, he refuses and is run down in the road. He dies on the operating table, but is brought back to life after four minutes of death by a nurse who had a defining experience at a site like those being used by the Green Man. But Maiden's vision of death is no tunnel of light. It's the cold taste of dirt and darkness.

Rickman includes most of the elements usually found in his novels in 'The Cold Calling' and expertly, atmospherically adds police procedural details and detection into the mix. It's not just an afterthought. It's integral to the complex plotting he's crafted here, a page-turning dynamo that manages to be compelling but dense with character and atmosphere. By the time each of the characters has been introduced, the reader will have been taken with them all. Cindy Lewis-Mars, the aging transvestite with talents far beyond those on display is particularly delightful, as are Andy the healing nurse and Marcus Bacton, the proprietor of a sub Fortean Times journal called 'The Phenomenologist'.

Bacton's pungent views make scathing fun of the ultra-believers in supernatural phenomena, and yet Rickman manages to turn this into another pillar of support for this supernatural thesis. Rickman also turns the spotlight on supernatural journalism via Grayle Underhill, AKA 'Holy Grayle', a sort of Agony Aunt for those with psychic problems. She's the newspaper equivalent of Dear Abby for the ghost-stricken. It's a tribute to Rickman's skills that even his scenes set in New York ring true. UK writers who set their works in the US often let slip the odd Anglicism, but Rickman avoids this trap, and it gives this work a breath of fresh air.

Of course, marketing this kind of hybrid is the type of nightmare that even Bobby Maiden does not have to deal with. Those looking for a straight crime-thriller will find everything charged with a supernatural aura, while those looking for some airy-fairy ghosts and monsters will find neither. What anyone reading this novel will find is a taut narrative and characters the reader really comes to care about. The ample doses of Fortean research are certainly a bonus, done with enough authority to bring to life the antiquity of the places that Rickman is describing. Readers of 'The Fortean Times' should particularly place this book in their radar, and for more than the mentions of their favorite magazine. Few writers have managed to combine arcane research crime thriller fiction so authoritatively as Rickman. 'The Cold Calling' is a book that should have a wide readership.