It begins in the fog, with a bleak village funeral. In the early hours of the following morning, Merrily Watkins and her daughter Jane are made aware that Aidan Lloyd, son of a wealthy farmer, will not be resting in peace. A rural tradition is displaying its sinister side as an old feud re-ignites. It's already a fraught time for Merrily, her future threatened by a bishop committed to restricting her role as deliverance consultant, or diocesan exorcist. Suddenly there are events she can't talk about as she and Jane find themselves potentially on the wrong side of the law. Meanwhile, DI Frannie Bliss, investigating a shooting, must confront the growth organized crime which is contaminating the countryside. On the Welsh border, the old ways are at war with the modern world. As the days shorten and the fog gives way to ice and snow, Merrily Watkins is drawn into a conflict centered on one of Britain's most famous medieval churches, its walls laden with ancient symbolism.
Rickman effectively builds on the creepy opening of his 15th mystery featuring Anglican minister Merrily Watkins (after 2015's Friends of the Dusk). Merrily, whose parish is near the Welsh border, feels guilty about the poor quality of the funeral she conducted for Aidan Lloyd, a young man who died after being struck by a van. She didn't know him, and his surviving family provided few details about his life. Merrily, who specializes in helping her flock deal with paranormal experiences, was also unsettled by Aidan's father's whisper at the graveside that his son was taken by the devil. Soon after, Merrily and her daughter, Jane, respond to noises in the cemetery abutting the vicarage, only to see "men like dark hawks under tall hats, moving like figures on a Victorian automaton, closing sluggishly together and then parting to expose in grey light the suggestion of a face" dancing on Aidan's grave. Merrily's search to understand what she witnesses in the cemetery coincides with efforts of more conventional clergy members to "fit the Church into the real world" (i.e., rid the ministry of "loonies" like herself). As usual, Rickman makes suspension of disbelief easy in his combining of natural and supernatural phenomena.