Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Magus of Hay by Phil Rickman

Oh, this was fun!
I live in Hay, and I have lived in Cusop Dingle, where part of the action takes place. In fact, the first victim in the book is drowned in my favourite waterfall!
And Phil Rickman gets Hay. He understands what makes the booksellers tick.
For those unfamiliar with Hay-on-Wye, it has been a town full of second-hand bookshops for fifty years, and second hand booksellers are a peculiar breed. The pagan couple are typical of newcomers to the trade, hoping to get their stock from charity shops while selling their own private collection, but Phil Rickman also comments on how the trade is changing because of the internet and Kindles.
He said himself that he had to tone down the eccentricity of the town to make it more believable (even the neo-Nazis have a factual past in the area!). And of all the eccentrics in town, there are none more so than Richard Booth, the King of Hay, who has a minor, but important, part in the story (and about one line, which is "Bugger off!").
For the purposes of the book, he invents a few new bookshops and a bar, including an Indian character who is quite fun - it's pretty hard to include ethnic minorities in Herefordshire, because there just aren't very many of them, but Jeeter makes sense within the neo-Nazi storyline.
I'm a great fan of Jane (Merrily's daughter) and Lol (Merrily's boyfriend) as well - who hardly appear in this book, though Frannie Bliss the policeman has a large part.
The story also goes up to Capel-y-ffin, home of a medieval priory, a Victorian Anglo-Catholic community run by Father Ingnatius (with bonus vision of the Virgin Mary) and Eric Gill the artist and head of a dysfunctional family. It's up in the Black Mountains not far from Hay, and is part of the Vicar of Hay's group of parishes. Father Richard himself gets a mention, though he doesn't meet Merrily (he doesn't approve of women priests, though a man who has a standard poodle called Jimmy the Curate, and welcomes all dogs to his services, can't be all bad. He's even blessed my dog in the street, which she accepted quite happily, though she herself was a Buddhist (long story).
I saw Phil Rickman talk about the book at Hay Castle (which is also mentioned in the book) during the Hay Winter Festival, and he was fascinating and enjoyable as always. I always try to go and see him when he's giving a talk.

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