The Wine of Angels
UK Hardcover First
534 pages; £16.99 ($39.95/US)
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001
Horror writers like to stake out a territory. H.P. Lovecraft laid claim to the haunted hills of Arkham, Stephen King has settled into Castle Rock, and Phil Rickman has made his mark in Wales. In his sixth novel, 'The Wine of Angels', he once again returns to a centuries-old village where quite modern people are colliding with ancient traditions. 'The Wine of Angels' provides the kind of detailed tapestry that is the hallmark of his other novels, and introduces Merrily Watkins, destined to become one of the finest serial characters the world of supernatural mysteries has ever seen. (Yes, it's a small world after all.)
In this novel, Rickman has moved away from the group of characters and locations that have dominated his previous novels. 'The Wine of Angels' is set in the Herefordshire village of Ledwardine, where the new vicar is all too new for the residents. The staunch and staid patrons of Ledwardine are not happy about the appointment of Merrily Watkins, a woman, to a position that has up until now belonged to a stodgy old man. It's a change they're not pleased about, but Merrily goes forth with the best of intentions. It's not until she actually sees the vicarage that she has questions, especially about the third floor which already seems to be occupied -- but only to her eyes.
Merrily is not just the new vicar, she's a chain-smoking single mother whose problem child is just reaching the dangerous teenage years. Rickman's plot this time around is quite entertaining, and through his evocative prose he manages to keep things moving briskly. The interaction between mother and daughter grounds the novel in the real world even as it peels away the layers and finds something more mysterious underneath. The atmosphere that Rickman creates is, like the fog that enshrouds the haunted orchard, so thick you can practically cut it with a knife.
Rickman has written some of the best ghost stories we've seen in recent years. 'The Wine of Angels' is a fine introduction to a fantastic series of natural and supernatural detection.