Merrily Watkins, parish priest, single mother, and exorcist, works for the Diocese of Hereford in a remote village on the border of England and Wales. Cozy? Not in the least.
The elite warriors of the Hereford-based SAS know all about pain and the enduring of it. Syd Spicer, ex-SAS trooper, has found himself back in the Regiment, this time as its chaplain, responsible for the spiritual welfare of the hardest men in or out of uniform. Faced with a case which would normally be passed discreetly to Hereford diocesan exorcist Merrily Watkins, Spicer is forced, for security reasons, to try and handle it himself, and is coming close to a breakdown. Meanwhile, the scattered communities along the Welsh border have their own crisis. With recession biting deep, urban crime has spilled into the countryside and old barbaric evils are revived. When a wealthy landowner is hacked to death in his own farmyard, the senior investigating officer DI Frannie Bliss is caught in the backlash, his private life in danger of exposure. With the framework of her own world beginning to crack, Merrily is persuaded to venture into areas where neither a priest nor a woman is welcome to unearth secrets linked with the border's pagan past—secrets which she knows can never be disclosed.
Parish priest and exorcist Merrily Watkins, deliverance consultant for the Diocese of Hereford, investigates more than one strange death near the Welsh border in Rickman s eerie 11th mystery to mix the natural and the supernatural (after 2008 s To Dream of the Dead). In an address to an audience of fellow clergy that neatly brings new readers up to speed, Watkins recounts her first deliverance job years before attending to an old man dying in a Hereford hospital who exuded a fierce sexual energy and whose touch was like an enema. Such evocative phrasing helps create an atmosphere of dark menace, even without stock horror elements like vampires or werewolves. Watkins later assists a frightened minister, who, in a prior life, served in the hardest regiment in the entire history of the British Army, and probes an apparent suicide. Rickman employs details about an ancient religion to good effect in developing the sophisticated plot.