#7 in the Watkins Series

The Smile of a Ghost (Merrily Watkins Mysteries Book 7) - Phil Rickman
This is my favorite Merrily Watkins to date. It’s set in the Border country between Wales and England, it features an English castle with Tudor connections (Ludlow), and there is folklore, in particularly that of the ghostly kind.

Merrily and Jane start the book happy. Lol is moving in across the way, and while Jane will be going to uni or leaving home soon, things are pretty ho-hum. That is until there is a death in Ludlow and that is followed by another one. But they could be suicide, except Merrily knows the man who is a relative to two of the victims. Of course, she gets involved. But there is also the question of the Deliverance Office and how certain segments of the church want to shut it down. Then Lol starts to have problems because, well, some people aren’t happy about an ex-mental patient having a relationship with the vicar. He’s also nervous about an up-coming concert.
So, like most Watkins books there is a slew of things going on and part of the wonderment is seeing how they might, just might fit together.

I’ll admit that I was little lukewarm about the series when I started reading, but it has grown on me. There are several reasons for this. The first is that Rickman writes good women. His women are totally believable. They are not always talking about men. It’s true that Jane might be a little advanced for her age and that her relationship with her mother perhaps borders too close on friends, but reasons for this are given in the series. It isn’t just Jane and Merrily’s relationship that is wonderful, but it is also Sophie and Merrily’s, and Sophie’s and Jane’s. The women in the book don’t get upset or jealous simply because another woman is better looking or if their husband spends time with a woman. Their concerns are far greater than simply relationships.

There is also Rickman’s treatment of mental illness. Lol and a few other characters are either recovering from or in the midst of mental illness. The reasons for such illness vary. The important thing is that those that stigmatize mental illness are shown to be wrong. Jane thinks that Lol is damaged and sensitive and must be wrapped in cotton wool, and this is somewhat how she thinks about her mother. Yet, Rickman illustrates that mentally ill does not mean damaged. Both Lol and Merrily aren’t as damaged or as weak as Jane or they themselves might think. The development of Lol over the course of the series has been wonderful. Furthermore, in this volume, also illustrates the cost of mental illness on those who are family.

Lastly, there is Rickman’s use of belief. Jane and Merrily believe different things, but there is a respect for letting someone believe in what they wish. This is true of most of the characters. And whether or not there really was a ghost and to certain degree the mystery itself are left, if not unanswered, then to the reader’s choice. Rickman does not judge.