The Master House, close to the Welsh border, is medieval and slowly falling into ruins. Now the house and its surrounding land have been sold to the Duchy of Cornwall. But the Duchy's plans to renovate the house and its outbuildings are frustrated when the specialist builder refuses to work there. 'This is a place,' he tells the Prince's land-steward, 'that doesn't want to be restored.'
Directed by the Bishop of Hereford to investigate, deliverance consultant Merrily Watkins discovers ancient connections between the house and the nearby church, built by the Knights Templar whose shadow still envelopes isolated Garway Hill and its scattered communities. Why did all the local inns have astrological names? What deep history lies behind the vicious feud between two local families? And what happened here to intimidate even the great Edwardian ghost-story writer M R James?
When Merrily learns that she - and even her daughter, Jane - are under surveillance by the security services, she's ready to quit. But a sudden death changes everything, and she returns to Garway to uncover fibres of fear and hatred stitched into history and now insidiously twisted in the corridors - and the cloisters - of power.
British author Rickman once again cleverly blends supernatural elements with a conventional whodunit plot in his ninth Merrily Watkins novel (after 2007's The Remains of an Altar). An apparition resembling the ghost in M.R. James's short tale, \x93Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad,\x94 has appeared at an abandoned house near the Welsh border that's to be restored by a trust connected with Prince Charles. When Felix Barlow, the builder set to do the renovation, complains about the ghost, the bishop of Hereford orders Watkins, a minister who specializes in exorcism cases, to investigate. After Barlow is found bludgeoned to death, suspicion falls on his beautiful assistant, Fuchsia Mary Linden, who appears to have committed suicide out of remorse. Doubtful of the official line, Watkins does her own digging. The writing and characterizations are first-rate, though Rickman gives away part of the game rather earlier than most mystery fans would like.