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.
- Glittering Images by Susan Howatch (Church of England Series #1) (bookwi.se)
- Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch (Church of England #2) (bookwi.se)
- Abba, Give Me a Word: The Path of Spiritual Direction by Roger Owens (bookwi.se)
- Ultimate Prizes by Susan Howatch (Church of England #3) (bookwi.se)