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Mystical Paths - Susan Howatch

"MYSTICAL PATHS" --- sequentially the 5th novel (of 6) in the "Church of England Series" centered on the Church of England in the 20th century --- introduces the reader to Nicholas Darrow, the son of teacher/healer, spiritual advisor, psychic and ex-Fordite monk Jon Darrow, who figures both prominently and peripherally in the series. Nicholas is given center stage here.

The novel begins in 1988, by which time Nicholas is a priest in the Church of England with a healing ministry. He receives a call from an old friend (Venetia Flaxton), who tried --- - without success, for Nicholas, who like his father, possesses psychic powers, can be persuasive when he wants to be --- to get out of her promise to visit him at the Healing Centre. Her call triggers an onrush of memories which carry him back to the year 1968. This was to prove the seminal year in Nicholas' life. At that time he was 25, a Cambridge graduate on the threshold of ordination, and a man sure of himself and his psychic gifts. Yet, beneath the veneer of sobriety and good sense which he liked to project, Nicholas led a licentious and somewhat dissolute personal life. He is set on following his elderly father (with whom he has a close, almost symbiotic, relationship) into the Church of England. Yet, as the novel progresses, the reader becomes witness to a near-tragedy in Nicholas' life. But only "by facing the truth about his relationship with his father" can Nicholas find a way out of the darkness that threatens to engulf him entire.

This is a finely crafted novel peopled by a rich variety of characters, each with their own interesting stories to tell. For the reader who is new to the "Church of England Series", he/she need not feel compelled to read each novel therefrom in sequential order. Indeed, the author states that "[e]ach book is designed to be read independently of the others, but the more books are read, the wider will be the view of the multi-sided reality which is being presented." And what a reality it is.