Susan Howatch, . . Knopf, $25 (496pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4147-3

The heartbreaker of the title is a stylish and gorgeous young man by the name of Gavin Blake—a newcomer to Howatch's popular Church of England series. Set in 1992, two years after the conclusion of the last entry in the series (The High Flyer ), this latest details Gavin's life as a high-class prostitute in London and his involvement with characters who will be familiar to readers of the series: Carta Graham, a well-heeled former lawyer; Nicholas Darrow, the charismatic rector of St. Benet's church; and the mysterious Elizabeth, Gavin's pimp-mistress with a shady past in the occult and New Age healing. Carta and Gavin meet when a friend of Carta's suddenly dies—and she discovers that he was a secret homosexual and one of Gavin's clients. As the story unfolds in parallel first-person narratives, the cocksure Gavin is shown in an increasing state of unraveling as his life is revealed to be less than the hip, bed-hopping blast he portrays it to be. Meanwhile, Carta—who fends off innuendoes from Gavin, despite her strong physical attraction to him—works as a fund-raiser for St. Benet's, where Darrow has played a crucial role in her psychic crash and spiritual recovery. As Gavin spirals into a breakdown, Carta finds herself increasingly connected to him—and to a dangerous underworld of sex and violence with links to her own past. As usual, plot improbabilities and long sections of spiritual musing are redeemed by Howatch's strongly drawn characters: if Carta can come across as brittle and prudish, Gavin's self-absorbed cant is continually entertaining, and supporting characters—such as the smoothly evil Asherton and tetchy but big-hearted ex-prostitute Susanne—round out the cast. Some readers may drop out during the final hundred pages (wherein Gavin recovers and finds the spiritual light), but this final book in the trilogy should satisfy fans who have been eagerly awaiting it. BOMC selection. Agent, Gillon Aitken. (May 3)