The five earlier books are 'Candlenight', 'Curfew' (formerly known as Crybbe), 'December', 'The Man in the Moss' and 'The Chalice'. All are described as ghost stories, and they certainly have a much darker edge to them than the later Merrily books.
'Curfew' is set in a village called Crybbe, a sleepy border town that seems to be locked into a time warp of a hundred years ago, and the inhabitants are not at all happy when record producer and wannabe new-age guru Max Goff moves into the large Elizabethan manor of Crybbe Court and start buying up properties in the village that he then lets out to other new age businesses. At first the new inhabitants think that the nightly ritual of tolling a curfew bell one hundred times from the church tower is just a quaint custom, but it becomes clear that it serves a much more vital purpose...
This is the first of Phil's books to feature dowsing, and despite being a walking caricature of the type, the dowser, one Henry Kettle (with his dog Arnold) is called in by Goff, who plans to reinstate the standing stones on the ley lines emanating from the mysterious Tump, with a view to energising the village as a Glastonbury-style new-age centre...
Although Mr. Kettle has his own views on what the leys are for, he is professional enough not to share those with Max Goff:Mr Kettle wore a heavy tweed suit. He carried what once had been a medical bag of scuffed black leather, softened with age. The tools of the trade in there, the forked twigs and the wire rods and the pendulums. But the tools weren't important; they just made the clients feel better about paying good money to a walking old wives' tale like him.
The other main protagonist is a ley researcher in the Alfred Watkins tradition called J. M. Powys, who seems to be somewhat of an amalgam of John Cowper Powys and John Michell. His book 'The Old Golden Land' is an obvious homage not only to Watkins' 'The Old Straight Track' but also Michells' 'New View Over Atlantis'.'Whadda you think would happen,' Goff whispered, 'if we were to put the stones back?' Well, Mr Kettle thought, that depends. Depends on the true nature of leys, about which we know nothing, only speculate endlessly. Depends whether they're forgotten arteries of what you New Age fellers like to call the Life Force. Or whether they're something else, like paths of the dead. But all he said was, 'I don't know, Mr Goff. I wouldn't like to say.'
As the story unfolds, it swiftly takes on a darker tone, and by the end of it the book could easily be classed as a full-blown horror story as there are some truly chilling and disturbing moments. Yet it is a true Rickman book at heart, a mystery thriller with a supernatural edge. Some of the characters here make a reappearance in the later Merrily books, and it is nice to see their origins in this book.
If you like crime/mystery thrillers, especially laced with supernatural spookiness, and with plenty of informed dowsing and earth mystery stuff thrown in, then you can't fail to love this book. I gave it 5 stars.
Favourite quote from the book:
More information on the Phil Rickman website.Blessed are the sceptics. For they shall be oblivious of the numinous layers, largely unaffected by the dreary density of places, unbowed by the dead-weight of ancient horror.