Anyone who knows me at all, however distantly, must know that I have a firm belief in, how can I put this, matters beyond the reach of science.
I'm not religious, certainly not in any conventional or organized sense; in fact, organized religion of any hue leaves me wondering how its subscribers can possibly be so misguided. But as far back as I can remember, I've always had an acute sense of something out there that we're not quite getting. Maybe some people get it to a greater extent than others, but mostly it's a mystery. You might almost say the last great mystery.
So discovering an author who sees things in much the same way as I do was not so much a revelation as a relief. Like I imagine it feels to find a safe harbour after being out in a small boat in a storm. (I have to imagine that because I don't do boats unless there's absolutely no alternative, and definitely not small ones. And as for the storm – you wouldn't get me within sight of a body of water bigger than our village pond if the wind rose above force 3, and only then on foot or on four wheels.)
OK, too much information about boats. Back to that author. Who, if you've ever encountered this blog before on one of my days, you'll probably know is Phil Rickman. I've mentioned Phil in passing quite a few times, and having just finished reading his last Merrily Watkins novel but one (the new one isn't out in paperback yet), I thought this might be a good time to expand on why he's my favourite mystery author of all time, and seems set fair to remain so into the uncharted future.
I've always had a soft spot for authors who know something I don't. Let me explain. Most authors know a lot of things I don't; it's amazing what you can learn from fiction. But some authors give the impression that they have access to some deep pool of knowledge which isn't available to ordinary folk – not in an arrogant way, just kind of how it is. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams were prime examples. Now they've crossed over to the other side, to borrow a well-known phrase, maybe they're even closer to whatever it was they drew on.
Phil Rickman freely admits – though admits is not quite the right word – that there's a lot more out there than we know about. On the acknowledgements page of every book of his I've read (which is all but the one still not out in paperback) he says something like I didn't have to make much up. The characters, yes, and some of the locations; and some of the story, especially the murder mystery bits. But where he lives, on the cusp of England and Wales, things happen.
I met him once, after seeing him in conversation with an interviewer who knew exactly what to ask and when to let him talk. He was an unassuming, soft-spoken figure, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans and quite matter-of-fact about mists into which people disappeared and fields his dog refuses to go into. Towards the end of the interview he asked the audience to raise their hands if they believed in ghosts. About a third did. Then he asked who didn't believe. Just a handful. And finally, who wasn't sure. That got the largest vote by a country mile.
Yeah, OK, most people who paid money to listen to him talk were probably favourably inclined towards his world view to begin with. But it's interesting that the don't-knows, and not the definite-yeses, were in such a huge majority. Because if that interview was any criterion, don't know, don't really understand, I just know there's something there is a far more accurate reflection of what he thinks anyway.
That's one reason I can't get enough of his books. The other, just as insistent, is far more down-to-earth: he tells a cracking good story around characters who have come to feel like old friends. You know the way some books draw you in, so that the real world retreats and when someone talks to you they have to repeat themselves several times to get through? Phil Rickman's have that in spades. Bucketfuls. Cartloads.
If you don't know the Merrily Watkins series, go find it. Please. He's not halfway famous enough.