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‘The High Flyer’ by Susan Howatch – The Review

THE HIGH FLYER

Cover Image Of 'The High Flyer' By Susan HowatchSuccessful London lawyer Carter Graham has power, sex appeal, and a well-ordered life. Everything has gone according to plan, including her recent marriage to Kim Betz, an investment banker with the right combination of looks and position. On the surface it appears to be a match made in heaven. The only problem is Kim’s ex-wife. Sophie begins to follow Carter like a shadow, making outrageous claims about Kim’s involvement in the occult.

Convincing herself that Sophie is mad, Carter moves ahead with her life. But something is amiss–and as Sophie’s stories are corroborated by other unwelcome disclosures from Kim’s past, Carter is thrown into a terrifying web of suspicion and betrayal, pushing her sanity to the edge. In desperation, Carter seeks help from Nicholas Darrow, the charismatic priest of St. Benet’s Healing Center. Though a religious skeptic, Carter hopes to stem the tide of darkness that threatens to envelop her life–and begins a compelling journey into the very nature of good and evil, wisdom and redemption. . . .

SUSAN HOWATCH

Image Of Author Susan HowatchSusan Howatch was born in Surrey, England, an only child whose father was killed in World War ll.

After earning her law degree from King’s College, London, she emigrated to America, where she married her sculptor husband, had a daughter and embarked on her highly successful career as a writer of intricately detailed gothic novels.

After separating from her husband, Susan left America and spent some four years living in the Republic of Ireland, before permanently settling back in England.

It was whilst living in a flat overlooking Salisbury Cathedral, that she found herself so inspired by the beauty of the building and the feeling that it may fill an emptiness in her life, that she began to study Anglican Christianity in earnest.

Susan now found herself wondering if she should continue with her writing career, deciding eventually that she should, but with a new emphasis to focus on novels about the Church of England in the 20th Century, reflecting her own newly discovered spiritual thoughts and views.

Susan has now returned to her roots and lives back in Surrey.

You can check in with Susan on her Facebook page


Cover Image Of 'The High Flyer' By Susan HowatchFIRST LINES

When I first saw my temporary secretary it never occurred to me to flirt with him.

Even in 1990, when suing for sexual harassment was still considered to be primarily an American activity, an office flirtation would have been considered unwise for a high flyer, and besides, this particular male hardly struck me as being irresistible.

He had curly hair, chocolate-coloured eyes and a chunky, cherubic look.

My taste in men has never encompassed overgrown choirboys

Cover Image Of 'The High Flyer' By Susan HowatchTEASER LINES

The trouble was that I could not now think of my marriage without being assaulted by a wave of  unbearable emotions which I felt quite unable to handle. Rage that Kim should have been deceiving me on such a huge scale, coupled with horror at his disastrous involvement with Mrs. Mayfield, were followed by grief that my love had apparently been a grand illusion, coupled with a violent, unforgiving self-disgust that I should have made such a devastating mess of my personal life …

Nobody suggested that it was my moral duty to visit my husband. Nobody talked about my moral responsibilities as a wife. But Val kept in touch with the doctors at the hospital, Nicholas kept in touch with the senior chaplain there, and now Lewis was talking of keeping in touch with Kim himself. The more I tried to escape from the reality of my shattered marriage, the more my new companions seemed to be quietly drawing my attention back to the husband I was unable to confront.


Cover Image Of 'The High Flyer' By Susan HowatchMY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK

When you live the dream you live the consequences…

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I had first read Susan Howatch many years ago and could recall enjoying her novels immensely.

The Susan Howatch I remember however, is the one before her religious transformation. When I recall some of the titles of those previously enjoyed novels: Penmarric, Sins Of The Fathers and The Rich Are Different, to name but a few, they are all traditional family sagas with a romantic edge and totally unrecognizable in writing style to The High Flyer.

The High Flyer left me somewhat perplexed and I am still a little unsure of my feelings towards it. It started off as I had expected, with the suspense building nicely from the very first page, hinting at the promise of a really intense psychological drama….

Carter Graham was bombarded by just about every dark thought and revelation possible; from Neo-Nazism, sexual deviance, murder and suicide; to jealousy, malicious harassment and poltergeist movements and sightings.

All this however was tempered evenly with the false love of a demon in disguise, who played with her emotions, then ripped them to shreds in a callous and calculating way, in his dark and disturbing dealings with the occult and the powers of evil, leaving Carter an emotionally drained wreck, on the path to self destruction.

….The second half of the book then switches to Carter’s journey of  redemption, cleansing and healing, as she struggles to deal with the feelings of self loathing, despair, hatred, fear and disgust, that are the legacy from this chapter in her life and, as it transpires, going all the way back to her troubled childhood.

Her ‘guardian angel’, who we first meet right at the start of the book, re-appears to show her the way of salvation, which she finds within the unorthodox walls of an inner city church network.

Very unorthodox priests, apply some very unorthodox thoughts and actions, to help Carter understand and come to terms with the healing process that she needs to go through, before she can get her life back on track, maybe even a different and more fulfilling track than she was pursuing before her disastrous encounter with her personal devil incarnate.

These men of the cloth appear to operate just within the boundaries of the church and the ‘blind eye’ of the Diocese officials, performing exorcisms and the ‘laying on of hands’ at regular healing services, but for Carter they are her salvation and a way back from the depths of despair, to a life where the true meaning of love waits for her, when she is ready to open her heart and mind to it.

I am not sure that I ever totally understood the many nuances and undertones of the book. Is it a romance, a suspense thriller, a mystery, a novel about the occult, or a lesson in spiritual and religious belief, or maybe a little of each?

I must admit, that I did find the prolonged religious references not within my usual sphere of reading and not particularly to my liking, however, it is definitely a very well written, perceptive piece of work, which deals with the inner emotions in a sensitive and deeply moving way, whilst providing a strong and emotional plot as a precursor to this journey of what I would describe as ‘self-healing’.

The High Flyer is part of  The St. Benet’s trilogy, which takes place in London of the 1980s and 1990s and illustrates the changes which took place in the Anglican Church in those years  However, whilst the Church is still at the heart of the books, there is an increased emphasis on characters who are not members of the clergy. Each book in the trilogy is written in the first person by a different narrator and all are stand alone stories.

Cover Image Of 'The High Flyer' By Susan HowatchThis book was a paperback charity shop purchase. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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6 comments
  • Brilliant post, Yvonne. Interesting to hear a bit about Susan Howatch’s life and the change of emphasis in her writing that she decided upon in Salisbury. (It is a beautiful cathedral I admit.) Whether this would be for me I’m not sure. I’m a non-believer who is actually quite interested in books about religion. (I read recently that this is actually quite common whereas I thought I was peculiar.) But the book does sound a bit too much of an odd mix, a strange combination. On the other hand you clearly liked it quite a lot as 4 out of 5 is a good rating. We’ll see, if I see it in the library I might just be tempted.

    • Aw! Thanks for your kind words, I really appreciate them. Let’s face it, actually finishing a review takes me so long in comparison to the number of books and promotional posts I publish, that they ought to be amazing works of art – I really don’t understand what my problem is!! 🙁

      If you look at our place on the map, we are almost equidistant from three beautiful cities; Bath with its Abbey and Wells and Salisbury with their Cathedrals, although of the three we do tend to spend more of our time in Salisbury (perhaps not quite as much recently, given events which have dominated the news). I can totally see why the peace and tranquility of Cathedral Green and the Cathedral Cloisters (out of the height of the tourist season of course), might have been so inspiring and transformational to Susan.

      I did waver between rating ‘The High Flyer’ a 3 or 4 star, but opted for the latter, because no matter what my personal feelings were about the amount or type of religious content, the storyline was absorbing and more than a little scary and the quality and style of writing hadn’t diminished from those early days of ‘Penmarric’ etc,, which we both remember so well!

      I also felt it was perhaps a little unfair of me, a confirmed non-believer to penalise Susan for including some religious content, as in all truth, the writing wasn’t overly ‘preachy’, just a little disconcerting.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and Happy Reading 🙂

  • Well… I’m not sure what to think, Yvonne. While I’ll admit your review intrigues me quite a bit, I wasn’t as impressed based on your earlier posts featuring this novel. I’ve researched some of her writings from the 70s (I use to love Gothic novels) and Penmarric sounds awfully familiar.

    My research shows me that this is book two in the trilogy and that she has other “C of E” books, most of which have high ratings. Although I’m an Episcopalian (the American branch of the Anglican church), I really don’t know what was going on in the church there during those years.

    I very much enjoyed your review, but think I’ll just keep this title (author, in general) on the back burner for now.

    • I read most of Susan’s very early stand alone novels and remember that I enjoyed them all, although I probably couldn’t remember too much detail about the individual storylines, without a re-reading session or two.

      I guess I shouldn’t judge Susan on her change of direction, either in her personal life, or her writing. However both the ‘Church Of England’ and ‘St. Benet’s Trilogy’ series, are certainly an acquired taste in reading.

      Don’t get me wrong, I actually did enjoy the storyline when I had gotten over the initial surprise and I certainly did like the style of writing and the strong characters Susan introduced into the story. I’m just not sure that the religious excerpts were not a little ‘over the top’ for me.

      If the investigations which have taken place over the past few years are anything to go by, there were historically some very dodgy dealings going on within churches of all denominations, and probably still are!

      Thanks for taking the time to read the review and research aspects of the book for yourself. I always appreciate your comments and thoughts 🙂

  • HI Yvonne. The blurb of The High Flyer sounds good. After reading your thoughts on it, it does sound like a mix of thriller, romance, mystery, religion and some supernatural and occult elements. I don’t mind religion in the books I read, but if the passages are lengthy and preachy I can’t enjoy the book itself, not to imply this book was preachy. I enjoyed your post on this multi-layered novel. Enjoy your Sunday!

    • I’m not sure that the religious passages were particularly lengthy or even overly preachy, however there was quite a lot of time spent with Carter trying to ‘find herself’, for want of a better phrase.

      Also, I wasn’t sure that the clerics and clergy she spoke to, should have been offering the advice they did, concerning the supernatural and occult elements of her predicament.

      As you say, this was definitely a multifaceted story and definitely not a comfortable read that I could just slip into.

      Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of your week 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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