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The Prayer of the Night Shepherd by Phil…
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The Prayer of the Night Shepherd

by Phil Rickman

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Hereford vicar and deliverance minister Merrily Watkins offers spiritual assistance to a relative of a parishioner who is suffering from asthma. Her teenage daughter Jane is enjoying her first job as a maid in a hotel built under the famous Stanner Rocks. The wholesome inclinations lead them to become involved with Border country feuds, reality television producers, a literary controversy, a family curse, spiritualists, hired thugs, a woman with a past, a hell hound, a blizzard to snow in suspects, and, of course for this series, ghosts and murders. Rickman as usual uses convoluted plots and local folklore, but he excels here at creating a strange, harsh setting and showing how it effects the well-developed characters. A good read, the best in the series since Midwinter of the Spirit. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 21, 2016 |
Wow. Really, WOW. I liked the previous books in this series, but came to accept that I would always care for the characters more than the events (plots) that happened around them. Until this story. Phil Rickman finally found the perfect balance of blending a pre-existing idea (Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles in particular) into this adventure, giving this mystery a greater depth. As always, the cast of characters continues to be literary platinum. ( )
  drhapgood | Jul 27, 2014 |
While Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins novels never were exactly light-hearted, they seem to become increasingly darker as the series. In a strange reversal, the happier the main characters become in their private lives (Merrily and Lol now pretty much officially a couple and even contemplating living together, Lol about to re-start his career, Jane still happily together with Eirion) the bleaker and more violent the world outside of their immediate circle seems to grow.

The Prayer of the Night Shepherd offers the mixture of mystery and the occult readers have come to expect from the series, this time involving the original of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles - one of the possible originals, that is, and will have turned to be a bit of red herring (on several levels) by the end of the novel. We get points of view from several regulars – Merrily of course, but Jane gets a lot of space to herself this time, and Lol is around again, too – as well as new character Danny who, as he is Gomer’s new partner, I assume we will likely be encountering again in future volumes. There are several narrative strands runing besides each other, some of which turn out to be connected, while others are only thematically linked, but unlike some earlier novels in the series (the fourth one in particular) it holds together quite nicely without things coming apart (maybe with a bit of fraying on the edges, but nothing substantial).

And like all installments in the series, the true appeal of The Prayer of the Night Shepherd comes neither from the mystery nor the horror elements but from its depicion of English and Welsh village life. As before, Rickman does a great job both with the atmosphere (including, among other things, a run-down hotel, a lonely farm and the Welsh-English border in general) and the characters, natives as well as city people that have drifted into the area for one reason or another. The novel isn’t something for people looking for a quick, action-packed read (it’s over 600 pages long, according to what my Kindle says) but for anyone who enjoys slowly sinking into the atmosphere of a place and getting immersed in a believable description of British country life this is strongly recommended.
  Larou | Feb 11, 2014 |
Merrily Watkins sixth outing, and the focus shifts to Jane, who has a weekend job at Stanner Hall (purported inspiration for Hound of the Baskervilles). Whilst Jane uncovers some strange happenings at the Hall Merrily is being hailed as a healer. Not the best in the series, but still readable. ( )
2 vote soliloquies | Apr 13, 2011 |
Could the Welsh border be the source of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous hound? Redundant TV producer Ben Foley thinks so, and is on a mission to prove it. Having purchased a collapsing Victorian manor and failed to transform it into a profitable hotel, the eager owner delves into the murky worlds of spiritualism and the manor’s hideous past. Enter local vicar, Merrily Watkins, who is rather concerned by Foley’s methods and his habit of involving her teenage daughter, Jane. Can a family be cursed? Is evil inherited? Can evensong cure cancer or asthma? And what will happen when the cameras start rolling?

My thoughts

This is Rickman’s sixth mystery novel featuring his rather modern vicar, Merrily. Not having read any of the previous stories, I did find myself feeling slightly confused in the early stages of the novel when details were referred to that clearly linked to previous plots. However, this became less of a problem as the novel continued and settled fully into this story.

There is a prologue which covers a rural incident that initially seems unimportant. It does serve to introduce two characters that will be significant in the storyline, but I really couldn’t see the point in it until I had read most of the novel, so would advise readers to be patient!

The prologue also sets the scene for a novel which is very specifically located on the Welsh border. People say “her” instead of “she” and the landscape if briefly but clearly evoked. I liked this aspect of the novel as there was a real sense of place created and sustained through the dialogue.

The vicar is introduced in the first chapter and I was surprised by her informality. She sounded rather young and irreverent for a vicar. However, as the story continued I liked the way in which she was thoughtful and genuinely wanted to help her parishioners. She was a more realistic character for having flaws.

Being ‘behind the scenes’ at the vicarage was also quite interesting and I found the discussions about church doctrine and attitudes mildly stimulating. I thought that, far from detracting from my enjoyment of the story (as I had expected) these elements of the plot made the story richer and more interesting.

Conversely, I had expected the origins of the Hound to be an interesting thread, but found this to be rather dull. This was perhaps because the of the narrative style. The blurb had made this book sound like a thriller, but in fact it was very slow paced and ran to 532 pages. Everything of any importance was revealed through dialogue, and usually second hand. Perhaps this is more realistic, but I felt that it resulted in a rather ‘flat’ novel: the narrative method nearly eliminated immediacy and drama. Because of this, I found this book easy to put down, although the developments in themselves were interesting.

There is no crime (in the present day storyline) until nearly 400 pages in, which I do feel is a little late for any novel billed as a crime/thriller. The quiet moments of humour in the narrative allowed for mild enjoyment, which is fine, but I had been expecting more tension. The storyline allows for a lot of detail about characters which helped me to anticipate some of the plot developments. I didn’t feel that this spoiled my enjoyment as the pace was deliberately slow: it felt like a meander through a quiet village.

Village life is central to the novel. Essentially, the whole novel turns on people’s back history and the revelations brought about through gossip. Key concerns are who is sleeping with whom and what your ancestors did. I found this quite distancing as I have limited experience of this kind of village intimacy and therefore it did not resonate with me. The various storylines gradually coalesce and move towards a resolution.

There is a postscript, although it isn’t called that. This allows all the ends to be neatly wrapped up, although it was clear what direction they were heading in anyway. I always like this at the end of a book as I enjoy a greater sense of closure. There is also a brief afterword, which is useful if you’re interested in knowing how facts inspired this fiction. I found this slightly surprising and therefore quite interesting to read as I had assumed that it was all fiction (although I knew that Conan Doyle had been interested in spiritualism).

Overall, I found this a mildly diverting read. I felt that it was more a story of village life (with a sprinkling of ghostlore) than a crime novel or thriller. It was fine to read but didn’t inspire me to rush to find another book in the series or by the same author. I think it would appeal to readers who like stories which contain an element of the supernatural. ( )
1 vote brokenangelkisses | Dec 4, 2010 |
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Epigraph
They had gone a mile or two when they passed one of the night shepherds upon the moorlands, and they cried to him to know if he had seen the hunt.  And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed with fear that he could scarce speak....
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
No record in cold print can give the reader sn idea of the pleasure experienced in collecting the elusive material we call folk-lore from the living brains of men and women of whose lives it has formed an integral part.  In some cases, with regard to superstitious beliefs,  there is a deep reserve to. Be overcome; the more real the belief, the greater the difficulty...  The folk of the Welsh districts are more superstitious, as a rule ...
Ella Mary Leather, The Folk-lore of Herefordshire
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Should have known, he really should.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330490338, Paperback)

At Stanner Hall, a Victorian mansion-turned-hotel, Ben Foley hosts murder-mystery weekends and strives to prove that his hotel is the house on which Arthur Conan Doyle based his immortal Baskerville Hall. As the days shorten and the weather worsens, Foley’s dabbling uncovers more than he can handle. For the history of Stanner Hall is linked not only to the Victorian fascination with spiritualism and the legacy of a terrifying medieval exorcism—but with a chain of deaths that is far from fictional.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:12 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A redundant TV producer has taken on a Victorian mansion on the Welsh border to use for murder mystery weekends. Convinced that the mansion is the site of Conan Doyle's Baskerville story, he invites trouble when his meddling in the spiritual realm attracts an unwholesome force that is far from fictional.… (more)

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