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Archive for the tag “Phil Rickman”

Ghost stories by authors surnamed James

The House on Cold Hill (House on Cold Hill, #1)The House on Cold Hill by Peter James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently read a book of ghost stories by Henry James (see my review here) and was somewhat less than impressed. I had previously read one of the stories, “The Turn of the Screw”, and found the style convoluted and almost unreadable. It wasn’t improved on a second reading. I was in the library looking for ghost stories by Montague James, whose stories are said to be better, but they didn’t have any, but next to Henry James on the shelf was Peter James, and so I took out The House on Cold Hill.

I know Peter James primarily as a writer of detective stories featuring detective Roy Grace in Brighton in the south of England. I’d read a couple of Peter James’s non-detective stories before, and had not been very impressed. I thought he would do better to stick to crime fiction. But The House on Cold Hill is different. And I was not disappointed. When it comes to authors surnamed “James”, Peter undoubtedly writes better ghost stories than Henry. For a start they are written in plain English, where you don’t have to read every sentence three times to try to puzzle out the author’s meaning.

I suppose they could also be classified as horror. Not all ghost stories are scary. Some are meant to be scary but fail; this one succeeds. I was reminded of Phil Rickman, who began writing stories in the supernatural horror genre and gradually shifted to writing crime stories. Perhaps Peter James is on the opposite route — having started writing whodunits, he is now writing ghost stories like the early Phil Rickman. I’ll be looking out for more like this. I won’t say that Peter James is the new Phil Rickman, but perhaps he’s the old one revived, like an old ghost.

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All of a winter’s night

All of a Winter's NightAll of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suppose one could sum it up by saying this this book is to morris dancing what The nine tailors by Dorothy Sayers is to church bell ringing.

I looked at this book very carefully before buying it, to make sure that it was not Midwinter of the spirit sneakily published under a different title, since they have republished old Phil Rickman books under new titles before, as a trap for the unwary.

It turned out, however, that I had not read this one before.

Phil Rickman‘s early books were of the fantasy/horror genre, but he seems to have been moving in his more recent ones more towards the crime and detective genre. In this one, however, he seems to have been trying to give equal prominence, switching scenes between the Revd Merrily Watkins, Church of England Vicar of Ledwardine in Herefordshire, who is also the diocesan exorcist, but with the updated and rather twee title of “deliverance consultant”, and Hereford detectives Annie Howe and Francis Bliss who do their detecting while trying to keep their affair secret from their colleagues.

It’s a while since I’ve seen a new Phil Rickman book — as I noted, the last one turned out to be a false alarm, mutton dressed as lamb. Perhaps I have rosy memories of his style, or perhaps his writing style has changed, but I found this one stylistically disappointing. I don’t know whether is writing style has got worse, or whether I have just become more critical.

One of the problems is that he has sudden changes of scene, but the characters are only indicated by pronouns. So you have “he said” and “she said”, but only halfway through the paragraph do you realise that the he and she are not the same people who were in the previous paragraph, and go back to the beginning and read it with different characters in mind.

In the first few chapters, in Particular, it looks as though Rickman has been reading the elementary text books on fiction writing that give advice to wannabe writers — especially the advice to end every chapter with a cliffhanger. The problem is that for the first 15 chapters or so the build up to the cliffhanger falls flat in the next chapter, so that every chapter begins with an anticlimax. This becomes tiresome after a while. So one learns that people have been terrible things in a churchyard. It turns out to have been morris dancing.

I first learnt about morris dancing from the comic strip The Perishers, which appeared in the Daily Mirror back in the 1960s. The role of the morris men in the comic strip was never terribly clear, but they struck me as nostalgic old gits who were trying to keep alive imagined traditions of a Merrie England that had never existed. Twenty years later I saw them performing in real life in a series of church fetes in Pretoria, the ind of events announced on their posters as a “Fayre”. I once made a video juxtaposing them with a group of Pedi women doing a folk dance in what is now Limpopo province, but was then called the Northern Transvaal. Two folk traditions, one local, the other imported.

Rickman tried to introduce morris dancing as though it was uncanny, spooky and scary, but in my experience, however, it was just quaint and nostalgic, and morris men no more sinister than people who liked going around ringing church bells.

As the book goes on it gets better, at least as far as the plot is concerned, and I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler to say that ultimately the villain turns out to be capitalism, especially as exemplified by property developers. In that it doesn’t differ much from some of the other more recent Phil Rickman books.

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Boo! Hiss! to Corvus publishers and Phil Rickman

CrybbeCrybbe by Phil Rickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just got a new Phil Rickman book for my birthday, called Curfew. I was looking forward to reading a new Phil Rickman book, but when I opened it I discovered it was one we already had, but just sneakily published under a different title to con the public into thinking it was a new book, and so getting people to buy it twice.

Boo! Hiss! to Corvus publishers for this dishonest and fraudulent practice.

And Boo! Hiss! to Phil Rickman for letting them do it.

As The Byrds used to sing:

As through this life you travel
You meet some funny men
Some rob you with a six gun
And some with a fountain pen.

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Novel-Writing month

National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us again.

Three years ago I challenged people in Inklings forums to take part and try to write a novel of the same genre as Charles Williams.

That’s because I like Charles Williams’s novels, and though he’s dead and so can’t write any more, I’ve hoped that others would write novels in the same genre, and Inklings fans would be among the people most likely to do that.

For a while I hoped that Phil Rickman would develop into the kind of writer like Charles Williams, but the trend of his writing is now more towards conventional whodunits with a little ecclesiastical intrigue thrown in — Ruth Rendell meets Susan Howatch. My take on his latest book is at Recent reading: To dream of the dead: Khanya

I was thinking of reissuing the challenge this year, and taking part in NaNoWriMo myself, even though inspiration has been mostly absent, and I’m still trying to revise the one I wrote three years ago in answer to my own challenge.

But I won’t be able to do that this year, as something else has come up. A couple of years ago I was struck by the way in which the charismatic renewal movement had been written out of South African church history, to the extent that much of what was published was a distortion of history. I began to collect material with the idea of documenting some of the vanished and vanishing history, before everyone who remembered it was dead. Someone pointed out that a church historian had actually written something 25 years ago, but was told by colleagues that he would ruin his academic reputation if he published it. I managed to locate him, and he kindly sent me his unpublished MS, which I read, and found as gripping as a page-turner novel. But it also killed my project, because he had written the book I wanted to write. I’d simply be trying to reinvent the wheel.

But then he suggested to me that I edit it and rewrite it, to bring it up to date and add my material, and that we try to find someone who will publish it under both our names. So that will keep me out of NaNoWriMo this year.

But I still wish that someone will be moved to write something in the Charles Williams genre (which includes C.S. Lewis’s That hideous strength).

If you have even the slightest urge in that direction, sign up with NaNoWriMo now and get writing!

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