MYSTICAL PATHS by Susan Howatch
Kirkus Star


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The air is thick with incense and mysteries (both secular and non) in this fifth smashing novel in Howatch's High Church series (Spontaneous Risks, 1990, etc.). Whoever would have thought that she could turn 20th-century theology into bestsellerdom? But she's done it again, this time reminding us that she's a mistress of the generational novel as well--because, here, the sons of heroes (actually, psychically wounded antiheroes, scrambling back to God) from former volumes step up to, well, the altar. It doesn't take 25-year-old Nick Darrow long to get into deep spiritual trouble here; after all, he's not only psychically touched (like his 88-year-old father, Jon, from Glamorous Powers) but young, cocky, impatient, sexually hyperactive--and, to make matters worse, it's 1968. On the eve of Nick's ordination, a debutante friend convinces him to look into the death of Christian Aysgarth, a brilliant Oxford don who died suddenly in a boating accident, leaving behind a wife agonized with guilt because she thinks it was suicide. So, Nick to the rescue, with a botched exorcism and not-so-botched seduction of the grieving widow. Such occurrences, along with Nick's double life as a Casanova among working girls, make him dimly aware that his personality is frayed, but he can't open up to his saintly father for fear that the beloved old guy will die of horror. Nick plunges on, then, eventually getting so obsessed with the Aysgarth affair that he believes himself possessed by the dead man. That's when Father Lewis Hall shows up in his groovy white VW to take Nick by the hand and lead him to the light. Along the way back, Christian's death is resolved in a spiffy little climax that includes an attempted murder, an exorcism conducted--quite successfully this time--by Nick, and a spiritual healing between Nick and his father. If only spiritual guides showed up like fairy godmothers in real life! Howatch even brings psychological and theological meaning to Nick's salvation. A sure-fire hit.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1992
ISBN: 0006496873
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Knopf