In this installment of Merrily Watkins, Rickman makes use of the real-life murders committed by Fred and Rosemary West. The couple raped and murdered several young women. There is a two-part mini-series called Appropriate Adult that details the case against the couple. There are several books about them as well. Part of what Rickman is addressing is the always questioning of more – were all the bodies found. (If you are an American, a recent example would be the Grim Sleeper).
But to say this book is simply a mystery involving a real-life murder case would be misleading.
The art of the novel is the question of relationships. Not so much marriage, though that is touched on as well, but romantic relationships and family relationships. There is Jane who not only faces a crisis of faith but also suffers through romantic problems with Irene as she worries about whether or not her mother is throwing away a relationship with Lol. Lol, Jane thinks, is spending too much time with a singer who really resembles Kate Bush.
So that’s another reason to like this novel.
There is the new woman in the village who is a bit too famous and a bit too interested in Merrily, as well as her husband. There is Bliss’ marriage, which may be falling about. There is the woman whose sewage semester needed to be dug up and oopsie there’s a body.
Merrily gets brought into the case because of Gomer and because, well, her nose.
But the murder almost feels secondary to the tangle of interconnect personal relationships and changing towns that consumes the novel. In addition to the issues above, there are also questions about what, if anything, you owe the dead, abuse, and sexuality. The pacing is almost wandering, but engrossing. A reader will wonder how Rickman can take all the threads and weave them together. Never fear, he does, quite well in fact.
The one thing I did miss in the book was more interaction between the Watkins women. I can understand the reasoning for it, but Merrily and Jane work best when they speak to each other.