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.