THE WONDER WORKER by Susan Howatch


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 Temptations spiritual and mundane face the residents of a healing center as Howatch (Absolute Truths, 1995, etc.) visits the more controversial side of ecclesiastical life--the ministry of healing and exorcism--in a novel that splendidly mixes riveting story-telling with a moral quest. The protagonist is Nick Darrow, whose bumpy journey to the priesthood was chronicled in Mystical Paths (1992). Now in his 40s, Nick is the head of a popular London healing ministry, St. Benet's. There, with the help of another familiar Howatch character, Lewis Hall, he conducts healing services and counsels those in spiritual distress. Nick seems to have achieved an enviable balance between the spiritual and the corporeal life: The ministry is thriving, his work absorbs him during the week, and on the weekends he joins his beautiful and talented wife Rosalind at their Surrey farm. But evil lurks everywhere, and Nick's empowering sense of control is soon shattered. His troubles begin shortly after he asks Alice, a lonely overeater, to be St. Benet's resident cook. A ``woman of integrity'' in love with Nick since she first attended a service of his, Alice hides her feelings until the right moment. Though warned by mentor Lewis to remain humble in the presence of his gifts, and to be careful how he uses them, Nick, upset by Rosalind's unexpected request for a divorce, hypnotizes and rapes her. After he comes to understand what he has done, he collapses in grief and shame. But more challenges are ahead as a possessed volunteer in love with him threatens murder, and a young priest, whom Rosalind tried to seduce, commits suicide. Healing as well as love and redemption are at hand as a wiser Nick confesses to Alice that perhaps while ``wonder workers never fail . . . a priest acquires strength through weakness.'' Howatch again splendidly entertains and provokes as she describes a soul's harrowing journey through the dark places on the road to salvation.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-375-40102-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997


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