• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor



I’ve been just _wallowing_ in this book for several days. Rickman is one of my favorites; he has the sort of characters you know and treasure, who have reality and depth and get deeper as they go along. To say nothing of flat-out wonderful, evocative writing, terrific plots, and a marvelously creepy strand of the supernatural twining like smoke through the story.

THE SECRETS OF PAIN is the latest in his Merrily Watkins series. The Reverend Watkins is an Anglican priest, widowed, with an unpredictable teenaged daughter—and is the official Exorcist (though the Church now prefers to refer to her discreetly as a “Deliverance consultant”) for the Diocese of Hereford. Merrily smokes like a chimney, is having an affair with the emotionally-damaged rock musician across the road, and wrestles constantly with the knowledge that most of the world thinks what she does is irrelevant at best and at worst, insane.

THE SECRETS OF PAIN involves—as one might expect—secrets of various kinds. The Official kind—Hereford is the homebase for the SAS, one of the most elite and secretive regiments in Her Majesty’s armed forces—the political kind (wherein the forces of commercialism and modernity threaten the increasingly fragile tradition and history of a very old part of the country)—and the supernatural kind, where “men with birds’ heads walk out of the river mist” and a _very_ old and bloody religion proves not to be quite gone.

Besides the wonderful characters and story-telling, what I like best about Phil’s work is the ongoing conversation throughout the series between religion and secular society, the subtle questions about the nature (and power) of belief. These are beautifully layered books, that can be re-read periodically—and the release of a new one is always a great excuse to go back and start all over with the first volume, THE WINE OF ANGELS. Which I propose to go and do, directly I finish work tomorrow.

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76 Responses »

  1. Thanks for this review…my mother is blind and I am always on the hunt for interesting books for her…call me her personal librarian. I hope that these books are available on CD or Mp3 player format, I haven’t searched yet. She reads about 6-7 books a week and its quite a challenge to find her books…her favorite genre is mystery and thriller and since its not my foray I spend many hours reading reviews and searching. Its nice when one falls in your lap. :)

    • I love to read so much, my biggest fear is to be blind! I can strongly empathize with you and your mother and the search for books to be devoured.

      Have you tried any of Susan Wittig Albert’s mystery books for your mother? There are a few different series, China Bayles (herbalist), An Edwardian England series written under the name Robin Paige, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Darling Dhalias, set during the 1930s. All available on audio in some form.

      I enjoy her mysteries in between Diana’s books !

      Philip Craig is good too, those are all set on Martha’s Vineyard.

      Diana, thanks for the review, I plan to start with The Wine of Angels this weekend.

    • Trid to find The Wine of Angels on my Apple IBooks store but it wasn’t there. Can I start further into the series

      • Dear Alyson–

        Yes, the books are much like mine, in that while they _are_ chronological, they’re also designed to be able to stand alone. I discovered them when someone at The Poisoned Pen gave me the sixth book, THE SMILE OF A GHOST.


      • Dear Diana-
        That’s how I found your series. They had some free books to give away at the library and the librarian handed me Dragonfly In Amber. I let my best friend borrow it and she’s the one that realized it was in a series. Needless to say we both now have the entire series. I bought mine and then bought her a copy of them all and gave them to her in an Easter Basket several years ago.
        I look forward to book 8 and thank you so much for sharing them with us!


      • Was enthusiastic when reading how you couched the recommendation. Arranged to take the day off work when I was sure of the pub date of your last heavyweight, and will do the same with the new one, then go back and work my way back up through teh ranks.

        I figure I qualify as a sustaining member of the dg fan club, since I have to buy replacements for whichever I passed along as a starter in the interim. I’ve even developed decided preferences for PB formats.

    • Lauren: your mother may be eligible to receive books from the Library of Congress National Library Service. If you live in the United States, each state has a branch of this library. I’m blind and I use it, along with mainstream audio sources, for my book wants.

  2. I really enjoyed his book “The bones of Avalon”.

  3. This book sounds brilliant, thanks for the heads up, i might have to treat myself to a january present to keep away the winter blues that come from the dark grey mornings in England. :)

  4. Diana, thanks for recommendation. I have added Phil rickman’s books to my TBR or better in that case TBL ( to be listened to) pile. Did you know they are available on audible? Quick question for another item you mentioned for methadone list. There was a writer whose books you recommende for historical romance, someone besides Jo Bourne? Thanks in advance.–Maria

    • Dear Maria–

      Hmm…Julia Quinn’s pretty good–and there’s the classic Georgette Heyer.


      • I grew up on Georgette Heyer. So glad to see you mention her.

      • I love The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer! Wonderful book!

        In regards to reading other books at the moment. I am still working on reading the entire Outlander series. I just started reading the books for the first time back in October. As soon as that is done, I will check out Phil Rickman. :)

      • Diana, Have you ever read any Norah Lofts? She was a fantastic english writer ,especially historical England. Very witty and informative books surrounding the Royal Family as far back as has been recorded. One of my favorites is “The Lute Player” with speculation on the sexual preference of King Richard the Lionhart. Anyone who reads it will become an automatic Norah Lofts fan.Good Reading…..now get back to work…haha

      • Dear Rhonda–

        Yes, I read a lot of Norah Lofst (who also wrote as Jean Plaidy, if I’m not mistaken) in my youth. Lovely writer, though I don’t know how easy her books might be to find these days.


      • Dear Diana,

        I was surprised the other day when out shopping at Cosco (a Canadian warehouse, sells everything including books) when I saw several Jean Plaidy books. I guess with the popularity of the genre, they have been reprinted. They are popular, I take them out of the library and even though the book is thirty years old there is still a line up of holds. Very tempting nice shiny new book versus twenty something tatty library book, hmmm…

        I was wondering if you have every read anything of Susanna Kearsley? She is a Canadian writer who writes historical romance, Winter Sea, Marianna, The Shadowy Horses, and also a thriller called Every Secret Thing. I discovered her this summer. Very good. I have been recommending them to my family and friends who accuse me of getting them addicted to your books.
        Of course it is always fun just to reread the series. It is the best antidote.


      • I had to look that up! Turns out Norah Lofts had two pen names, Peter Curtis (murder mysteries) and Juliette Astley. According to Wikipedia, Jean Plaidy had several pseudonyms. “Eleanor Hibbert (1 September 1906 – 18 January 1993) was a British author who wrote under various pen names. Her best-known pseudonyms were Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, and Philippa Carr; she also wrote under the names Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anne Percival, and Ellalice Tate.”

        I also discovered a neat site with reviews of historical fiction:

      • Not to be picky, but Norah Lofts wasn’t Jean Plaidy. Eleanor Hibbert was the real person behind the Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr pseudonyms. However she shunned publicity during her lifetime (she died in 1991) so there’s rarely much info or photos of her on her book jackets. If you ever visit Foyle’s bookstore in London, there is a photo of Mrs. Hibbert on the wall there with the (then) owner. I’m so geeky that I actually took a photo of the photo when I was there – I’m a big fan of her books too.

      • Fans of Georgette Heyer often like series written by Patricia Veryan. One series is set in regency England, 10+ books. However, IMHO her Georgian Golden Chronicles series is better. Set in 1740-1750′s England the books detail the Scottish Rebellion, and mysteries, plots, and Jacobite supporters from the British perspective. Lovers of the series reread her novels almost as much as Gabaldon fans reread hers (that is to say, over and over and over). Many Veryan fan club members also love the Outlander books. It was there that I first learned about Diana’s books and became a rabid fan. For many readers this could be a delicious snack while waiting for MOBY, the next full meal.

  5. Hi Diana,

    I discovered Phil Rickman last winter. I had been involved in an MVA which resulted in a very bad shoulder injury. Since I am an OR nurse, a job that requires two good working arms, I had an enormous amount of time on my hands. If you can imagine months on end where you are not permitted to do anything physical accept physio exercises, with a person who normally spends her day in constant movement. Luckily, I found Phil Rickman’s books, and I must credit him for saving my sanity. And I am sure my family thanks him as well. Nurses do not make good patients. I read the whole Merrily Watkins series, back to back, as well as, some of his older books. Delightfully creepy and great characters. I read The Secrets of Pain in November, fantastic, like going home to visit old friends. Your review captures the series perfectly. Although I am sure Phil Rickman endeavers to make his books stand alones, to truly appreciate the series and story lines it is best to start reading at the beginning of the series, as you mentioned, The Wine of Angels.


  6. Thanks for putting me onto Phil Rickman Diana. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series and I now own my very own Gomer Parry Plant Hire t-shirt. *g* I even went as far as getting the CD they made with the Songs from Lucy’s Cottage. Who’d have thought books about a female priest would be so much to my taste?

  7. I highly recommend books by Jim Butcher while waiting for more of Diana’s books! He has two series. The Dresden Files are about a modern day wizard who works with the Chicago police to help solve bizarr crimes. The Codex Alera series is about a mythical world that I found captivating.

    I just realized that his wife, Shannon Butcher, also has a book series but I have not read any of her books yet.

    I hope someone else finds Jim’s work as awesome as I have.

    • Already read all his books, his books are great.

    • It’s easy to get hooked on Harry (Dresden or Potter). If you are fond of fantasy the Dresden Files are detective stories with lots of paranormal punch. I’d like to suggest books by Barbara Mertz for the methadone list. She writes the Amelia Peabody books under the name Elizabeth Peters and novels that have a gothic mystery flavor under the name Barbara Michaels.

    • I love Harry Dresden as well. I read the Mercedes Thompson series as well, it has the same pace as Harry Dresden. The only problem is that they are not all that long.

  8. Many thanks, for another author to check out! The rainy winter weather is helping me burn through good reads in a hurry… Finishing Strange Streets now, and who knew about LJG and snakes?!

  9. I’m off to order “The Secrets of Pain.” I take Diana’s recommendations very seriously. She was, after all, the one who first recommended Sara Donati’s “Wilderness” series to me, which is a great read. Thank you Diana!

    • After seeing Diana’s recommendation of Sara Donati’s books, I picked up the entire Wilderness series for my Kindle. Really enjoying them! Like you, I take her recommendations seriously and am investigating Phil Rickman’s and Jim Butcher’s books, too – another respondent recommended him. Hope to be pleasantly surprised.

      • I love the Sara Donati Into the Wilderness books that pick up where Last of the Mohicans leaves off. They are serious period contenders to fill the time between ongoing multiple re-reads of the Outlander/Lord John books. (I admit it. I’m a Diana/Davina addict)

        Thanks for the Methadone List, Diana. What a great idea to share your favorite books with your fans.
        Now I have a longer list to fill the time until MOBY. LOVED Scottish Prisoner, btw, in spite of the second narrator. It was the best Lord John book yet. You have such a gift.

  10. Hi Diana,

    I look forward to reading the Phil Rickman series, as well as some of the other books recommended here.

    I wanted to say thank you for autographing my Yule present from my husband – The 20th anniversay addition of Outlander, purchased from The Poisoned Pen. I so appreciate you taking the time to personalize the inscription. It is something I will treasure.

    Both my husband and I eagerly await the next book in the series.

  11. Just want to wish you a very Happy Birthday from Oregon.

  12. Went to look for his books, but unfortunately they’re not translated to Swedish (yet?). Too bad, since you really caught me with that review…

  13. Diana – Happy Birthday from San Gabriel Valley, here in So. Cal. Just love your writing and methadone list.

  14. Could this **gasp** be #60? Impossible, you look too young, but then, so do I.

    As Gloria Steinem famously said with a shrug “this is what 60 looks like!”.

  15. Happy Birthday !! It’s perfect, you are number 1 1 1 with us!

  16. Starting the day with Chocolate! Breakfast of Champions. Happy Birthday! Hope you have all your dear ones near , or the next best thing…Flowers in Carona bottles, thats what I get from my boys…love it!
    The excerpt was very fun, so enjoying the Daily lines. THANK YOU!
    Enjoy Your DAy!

  17. You are only as old as you feel, but as for looks, you look mah-ve-lous! Many happy returns for the day, may your friends and family spoil you silly, but don’t let anyone set fire to your dessert!

    Warm Hugs

  18. I began reading the Outlander series because it was recommended by a clerk at Borders at our
    local Mall. For awhile our city had no book store. Now we have BAM…what ever they are never heard of them but they sell books. I know everrything will soon be on computers but I do so love turning pages. And it is soooo nice to talk to someone who can recommend a book and tell you why.
    I just miss bookstores.

    • Dear Pat–

      Yes, {sigh}, nothing like a bookstore! I think BAM is “Books-A-Million,” but wouldn’t swear to it. My thanks to the nice clerk at Borders, though!


  19. I found Phil Rickman’s books at the end of 2010. I devoured all the Merrily Watkins books and read his earlier books (December, The Man in the Moss, Crybbe (aka Curfew), Candle Night and The Chalice). Several of the earlier books introduce some of the characters in the Merrily books, which was good, like seeing an old friend (but earlier as it were, no problem for DG’s readers!).

    • Dear Lou–

      Yes, I liked the Merrily books so much that I went and found all Phil’s earlier ones–especially liked THE MAN IN THE MOSS and DECEMBER, though they were all very good. Just recently, I discovered that he’d also written two books under the name Will Kingdom, and found those, too–quite different (outside the Merrily “universe”, as it were), but set in the same geographical area, and likewise fascinating!


  20. Thanks for the recommendation. I had not heard of Mr. Rickman, but will be seeking out his work!
    Happy Birthday with all the best wishes!

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