(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Phil Rickman’s novels create a fictional world that might, in another writer’s hands, be called cozy. His stories are set in rural villages where everybody knows everybody else and in quaint old towns rich in history, with castles and cathedrals and humorously gruff local characters. The author subverts this pretty picture, however, sometimes with murder and supernatural dread and sometimes by a realistic depiction of the animosity between the romantic views of visitors and newcomers and the more practical attitude of the local people. His use of detail to build a credible, fully imagined background makes the intrusion of the supernatural more disturbing because what happens does not take place in some fantasy world but in a real place. Rickman’s journalism background is evident in the research he does for each book; as a whole, his work provides a wealth of information about paranormal phenomena, traditional English and Welsh folklore, pagan beliefs, the workings of the Anglican church, and what Rickman calls “earth-mysteries,” formations such as Stonehenge.

In an interview, Rickman discussed his approach to the occult as simply another aspect of real life. When he writes about the paranormal, he does not treat it as fantasy or even horror. He uses a basis of documentary realism to write about the work of exorcist-priest Merrily and the politics involved with her job, although he admits that Merrily’s real-life equivalent would not be involved in as many criminal investigations as she is.


Crybbe is probably the most successful of Rickman’s early novels and was the first to be released in the United States. According to the author, his American publishers renamed the novel Curfew because they thought Americans would not know how to pronounce the original title. In retrospect, he said, he felt that Curfew was a better title. In many ways, this nonseries novel is a precursor to the Merrily Watkins series: It is set in a village not far from Ledwardine, features a clerical hero, and marks the first appearance of Gomer Parry, local contractor.

Crybbe, an isolated village between England and Wales, has been left to itself for centuries, and most who live there follow the old traditions, such as the nightly ringing of the church bell marking curfew, without question. When a millionaire record producer, inspired by the writings of a local paranormal investigator, comes to town with a plan to make Crybbe a New Age mecca, ancient forces begin to stir. Faye Morrison, a reporter stranded with her vicar father in Crybbe, does some digging into the sinister origins of village traditions. Rickman...

(The entire section is 1097 words.)