Scandalous Risks by Susan Howatch (Church of England #4)

Scandalous Risks by Susan HowatchSummary: A young woman recounts her affair with the Dean of Starbridge.

One of the things I have enjoyed about reading the Church of England series is learning more about the actual Church of England.  A Dean of a Cathedral is essentially the pastor of the Cathedral.  In Scandalous Risks, Neville (Stephen) Aysgarth has risen from his role of Arch Deacon (assistant to the Bishop that oversees a geographical area of Churches) to the Dean of the Cathedral.

As Dean of one of the most prominent (fictional) Cathedrals in England Neville has risen to become one of the most powerful clergy in the Church of England.  Unfortunately for him, the Bishop of Starbridge is now Charles Ashworth, Neville’s conservative rival.

But Scandalous Risks is not simply a continuation of Ultimate Prizes (#3). It is narrated by Venetia Flaxton.  Young Venetia is 26, wandering around trying to find purpose in life.  Her best friend, Primrose (daughter of Neville) draws her to Starbridge and Venetia finds a number of friends, a job working for the Bishop and eventually an affair with the Dean (Neville).

This is the only book of the series that is not directly about a clergy member and the only narrated by a woman.  As with the whole series this the book is primarily concerned with the role of sin in separating us from God.

Sin clearly separates both Neville and Venetia from God, from their purpose in serving God and eventually from their own mental stability.  At the end of Ultimate Prizes, Neville has achieved a balance in his life and a way back to God.  But Neville refused to admit that he was an alcoholic.  So he continued on another 20 years until the start of this book when again he is in crisis.

This is not a happy ending book.  Affairs are not happy events.  They are events where real people are harmed.  Not just those involved in the affair itself, but those that are around the affair.

Book four moves directly into Book 5 (Mystical Paths) and the effects of books 3 and 4 are examined in more detail for those that are even more extended from the actual affair and other related sins.

I am not really conformtable with labeling this series ‘Christian Fiction’.  It violates most of the Christian fiction rules.  There is plenty of alcohol, smoking, sex, language, occasional violence.  There are re-occurring roles of ‘psychics’ (working with in Christian worldview) and a much larger discussion of homosexuality than I would have guess from a series of books set in the middle of the 20th century Britain   In the end I am encouraged to think more clearly about my faith, which seems to me to be the purpose of Christian fiction.  But if you are expecting more traditional Christian fiction, this is probably not it.

Also this book, as the rest of the series, uses a book (in this case the real book Honest to God) as discussion point.  Honest to God was a real book written in the mid 1960s by Bishop Robinson that shook the orthodox establishment and played a fairly similar roll as Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  I have no real desire to read Honest to God (because it is used as a foil) but I do appreciate the author’s efforts as maintaining reality and keeping the discussion theological.

Scandalous Risks Purchase Links: PaperbackKindle Edition, AudiobookAudiobook is discounted to $3.99 with purchase of Kindle Book



Adam, I came here from a comment you made on Matt Redmond’s blog, having arrived there from The Wartburg Watch.

Scandalous Risks is my favorite of Susan Howatch’s books. I know what you mean about being reluctant to call them “Christian fiction.” People in my church wouldn’t understand. But, I don’t read the standard Christian fiction found in the church library.

If you haven’t read Susan’s “St. Benet” trilogy, starring Nicholas Darrow, it’s time you did. That series, although it has more “unchristian” material (drugs, homosexuality, gay prostitution) in my opinion is the most Christian of all her works because the stark difference between good and evil are made apparent, very much like in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the third in his space trilogy.

Although I’d call the St Benet trilogy “Christian fiction” I would not recommend it to many Christians, at least the ones I hang out with. They wouldn’t understand.

    I haven’t read them yet although they gave been on my to read list for a while. Just today I got notice that they all dropped to $9.99 on kindle and was thinking of picking them up.

      They’re a tougher read than her Starbridge series. Darker, and a bit of the occult with the drug and prostitution crowd. Also, Nick Darrow is my least favorite protagonist from the Starbridge series, but the stories are more than just about him. One of them picks up where the middle-aged Nick and Venetia leave off at the end of Scandalous Risks. But unfortunately, Venetia’s situation never quite gets resolved. It’s as if Susan H meant to write more but didn’t. The young Venetia is my special favorite character, but in middle age she’s a cynical mess.

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