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Novel number four in Howatch's so-far roundly admirable Anglican Church series is another winner--and somewhat less esoteric than earlier efforts like Glittering Images and Glamorous Powers. It also offers a surprise--a female narrator, instead of Howatch's usual anguished clerical males. She is Venetia Flaxton, a sophisticated society-girl manquÉe, who turns her back on champagne soirÉes in London (in the salad days of the Sixties) to seek something more fulfilling--which she finds in the arms of one of England's most eminent churchmen, the Dean of Starbridge Cathedral (read Salisbury, and think of Constable), Neville Aysgarth. Aysgarth is married (to the gorgon Dido) and, as series readers know, has a history of disastrous attachments to younger women; but Venetia doesn't know this and persists in writing him steamy letters (which the foolhardy Aysgarth answers with equal heat), as well as rolling around with him on various National Trust turfs. Meanwhile, having taken a job as secretary to Aysgarth's archrival, the Bishop of Starbridge (a.k.a. Charles Ashworth from Glittering Images), Venetia hears both sides of the liberal-conservative theological debate spiraling around a newly published book called Honest to God, which (with St. Augustine) claims that good Christians need only ""love God and do what they like."" Stern Ash-worth--who believes that the devil still stalks the world--disagrees in measured arguments, while Aysgarth tells Venetia that his restraint in consummating their affair (though they do just about everything else) proves that even adultery cannot categorically be considered a sin. Predictably, the affair ends tragically, but Howatch isn't so cruel as to leave Venetia without a glimmer of hope--a glimmer to be explored in the next book. Venetia proves a provocative, glib narrator, which makes this installment a bit more frivolous than others in the series. Still, with its wicked humor, splendidly drawn characters, and soupcon of theology, it's certain to amuse and entertain-as well as sell.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1990
ISBN: 1616842962
Publisher: Knopf