The Fever of the World
Date Published06 April 2023
Price£ 9.99

The Fever of the World

by Phil Rickman

The death of a local businessman and a haunted holiday cottage collide in another investigation for diocesan exorcist Merrily Watkins set in the beautiful, mysterious Wye Valley.


Hereford diocesan exorcist Merrily Watkins is back, struggling with the problems of running a rural parish in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her job is under threat as the new bishop isn’t keen on anything he either can class as hocus-pocus, re-categorise as a mental health issue or alternatively hand-wave away as superstition and wishful thinking. As a result, fewer and fewer cases have come Merrily’s way, and she knows it’s only a matter of time before she gets edged out. So, when her old friend and mentor Huw Owen calls unannounced, she’s not keen on weakening her tenuous hold on her job any further by getting involved in any unauthorised investigations.

Against her better judgment, Merrily caves in and allows herself to be persuaded to talk to the new vicar of Whitchurch about a case involving the possible haunting of a holiday cottage, that he doesn’t feel equipped to deal with. The local vicar is also concerned that his past as a well-known character in a popular TV drama will attract undue media attention if he’s known to be involved in anything possibly supernatural.

Merrily’s not the only one who’s having problems. DCI Annie Howe has a dead estate agent on her hands and needs to know whether his death was suicide, an accident or murder. Peter Portis, a keen rock climber, fell to his death from one of the Seven Sisters, high cliffs overlooking the River Wye. Portis was a big name in the Hereford area and his death has attracted a lot of attention. DI Frannie Bliss, still under wraps as Annie’s boyfriend, has put one of his team, David Vaynor, onto the job. Vaynor, a university graduate with a PhD on the poet William Wordsworth and his connections with the Wye Valley, is more cerebral than the average Herefordshire copper and occasionally gives off the aura of a man somewhat out of his depth, in contrast to the down to earth Bliss and their hard-edged boss.

There’s no apparent connection between the haunting and the death of Peter Portis, but in the border country, nothing is ever as simple as it might first seem.

Fever of the World is an immersive journey into the highways and byways of the Wye valley, from its towering limestone cliffs to the dark recesses of King Arthur’s cave and then to the deceptive waters of the river itself, a trap for the unwary as it wends its way in deep curves through an ancient landscape, home to little-known standing stones and a once-imposing ruined mansion. Dark shadows are never far from the light in Phil Rickman’s world, but as ever, there are always two possibly interpretations of events: the mundane and the arcane, with Merrily always striving for the former, before sometimes falling back on the latter.

I learnt a lot about Wordsworth, and on occasion that knowledge felt somewhat shoehorned into the story, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of spending time in good company. I took a particular interest in the passages concerning King Arthur’s Cave as the museum I curate houses a lot of the archaeological material recovered from early excavations at the site.

Phil Rickman can always be relied on to combine archaeology, history and the joys of the landscape into a seamless whole, spiced up with a dash of the supernatural, always subtle, but still capable of producing a full body shiver. My partner in crime, Sharon Wheeler still hasn’t forgiven him for the nightmares she had after reading the Morris-dancing corpse scene in an earlier book in the series! Fortunately for my delicate nerves, there was nothing quite so creepy this time.

There are appearances by plenty of old favourites such as Merrily’s boyfriend Lol Robinson, who’s now wondering how he can help support Merrily if she loses her job. Merrily’s daughter Jane is doing her best to make a go of a shop in Lucy Devenish’s old cottage and trying to decide if she wants to go to university or not. And of course there’s the ever-popular digger driver, Gomer Parry, always up for a bit of trespassing in a good cause, especially if Jane needs his help. I swear that if the redoubtable Gomer ever succumbs to covid, or even just old age, I’ll throw a strop of epic proportions, retire to a darkened room and cry.

I ended the book with an urge to read the poetry inspired by Wordsworth’s visits to the wilds of Herefordshire and to take another trip over to King Arthur’s Cave. And as the cold nights still haven’t quite gone away, I’m going to wrap myself in a cosy blanket, turn all the lights on, and start re-reading the Merrily Watkins books again from the beginning. This is a series that’s always worth revisiting, and I hope it’s a while yet before she is deemed surplus to requirements as an exorcist – or deliverance consultant, as I should call her. Herefordshire and the border country wouldn’t be the same without Merrily

Reviewed 29 April 2023 by Linda Wilson