Picks and Pans Review: Scandalous Risks

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Susan Howatch

Venetia Flaxton, youngest child of members of the British aristocracy, is a bit of a bluestocking, a bit of an ugly duckling-eyebrows too pronounced, hips too wide—and more than a bit confused about what to do with her life.

What she does is fall in love. Which wouldn't be such a bad idea except that Venetia is 26 and the object of her passion is 61. Which maybe wouldn't be a problem except that the gentleman in question is her father's best friend—and married. Which might be gotten around if he weren't dean of one of England's greatest cathedrals.

In this fourth novel in a series centered on the Church of England (the other three: Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers and Ultimate Prizes), Howatch deals as much with theology and doctrine as she does with the misbegotten, never-quite-consummated romance between Venetia and the alcoholic professional seducer Aysgarth, neither especially likable characters.

Worse, the heavy-going religious discussions and the pretentious chronicling of the love affair combine the worst features of authors Lloyd C. Douglas and Judith Michael: "With a new ferocity I continued the all-consuming task of blotting out the pain of alienation, and although occasionally I remembered that image of the outstretched hand by the great closed door, no light pierced the darkness of the wasteland where the Great Pollutant still oozed its filth across my soul."

A reader runs out of patience long before running out of pages. (Knopf. $21.95)

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