The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman
List Price: £16.99
Hardcover - 491 pages (7 December, 2001)
Macmillan; ISBN: 0333906233
Reviewed by Lavie Tidhar
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

The Cure of Souls is third in a loose series of novels featuring the Reverend Merrily Watkins, a diocesan exorcist. It sits somewhere on the line between crime and horror – what might seem an  uncomfortable combination, if it were not for the author’s skill.

It is summer in the English countryside, and things are stirring in the shadows beneath the hot sun… Watkins’ teenage daughter Jane, about to go on holiday with her Welsh boyfriend, gets dragged into an after-school séance. Seemingly innocent at first, things get complicated when Watkins gets an urgent call from a deeply religious family whose fourteen year-old daughter, they claim, is possessed by a dead spirit. And in the Frome valley, Watkins’s old friend Lol is becoming curious about a past that seems to become bloodier the more he learns…

Rickman weaves the genres of murder-mystery and paranormal horror (pardon the mixed metaphors!!) like an expert juggler. It would be all too easy for one’s suspension of disbelief to fail, if it weren’t for his taut, naturally-told story. Christian beliefs of ghosts and spirits mix with Gypsy lore and psychology, so that we are never truly sure what is objectively happening.

This is a story that truly stands on its characters, though. Watkins’ daughter Jane is delightful and real, drawn with loving attention. Watkins herself comes through as a very human character - her failings and misgivings contrasting with her attempts to do right being buffeted by local corrupt cops and developers, the politics of the C of E, and her attraction to Lol.  Lol himself, the gentle musician turned psychology student comes through as genuinely adorable, playing historical detective, interacting with the increasingly-weird neighbours and gently paying court to Merrily.

The main problem I had with The Cure of Souls was getting into the novel in the first place, as (if you haven’t read the previous two books) it does require the reader to accept the particular Christian aspects of problem-solving that are being used. However, once I was drawn in, I was hooked. The most important thing here is that the characters themselves believe, thus making it as real to the reader as it is to them.

The Cure of Souls is a complex novel of love and betrayal, murder and tragedy, interlaced with wry bursts of humour and a minute attention to detail. To give away any of the actual details of the story would be a shame. Tread your way into the deserted hop-fields of the Frome Valley – but tread slowly…

© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu