Each of the novels in this series about the Church of England in the twentieth century is self-sufficient. Yet, in the author’s note to MYSTICAL PATHS, Howatch suggests that “the more books that are read, the wider will be the view of the multi-sided reality which is being presented.” This time, the year is 1968. Nicholas Darrow, a strong-willed twenty-five-year-old, is about to follow his father into the priesthood. He idolizes his father, who was past sixty when Nicholas was born, yet he also resents the deep, often strangling connections between them. Although certain of his direction, Nicholas is dissatisfied with Anglo-Catholicism and convinced that it must be modernized. He says nothing of this to his father, who he feels would be greatly disturbed by such critical thoughts. Instead, Nicholas sets out to structure his own reconciliations: between worldly and spiritual desires, between delusion and reality, between the boy who feels he can never measure up to his father’s greatness and the great man he himself will become.
Railing against the “liberals with their pathetically narrow view of reality” and the “Evangelicals bawling away in outdated thought-forms,” Nicholas believes that eternal truths need to be translated into a modern language everyone can understand. This focus on language—as a means to explore, even as a means to create one’s own reality—runs through the book. Nicholas wants to destroy the illusion that religion and psychology are “mortal enemies,” presenting them instead as two languages pointing the way to one truth. As an intellectual adept at analytical thought and a psychic of considerable ability, Nicholas is well-suited to do just that.
Warned by his father—also a psychic—to nurture his powers within the safety of the Church, Nicholas still cannot resist psychic parlor tricks. But when one pseudo-seance prompts a friend’s suicide attempt, Nicholas finally realizes that he is flirting with real danger—to himself as well as others. To set things right, he decides to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the woman’s husband. In the process, he also uncovers some of his own past—particularly his relationship with his father—and undertakes a spiritual journey inwards, “the journey to the centre of the soul.”