The violent lunacy of Renaissance Italy has always been a poorly kept secret: lust for power and greed for torture often marked the successful noble or priest. The Inquisition became recreational, with every human obstacle a mere pawn for murder and ambition. An old and grueling tale--of the Duchess of Amalfi--Stacton tells it again, but the literary aplomb of his previous historical fiction is conspicuously absent. All the necessary personnae are properly vilified: the ruthless Cardinal wins the Duchy of Amalfi by playing off his mad, impotent brother against his guileless, unhappy sister, the Duchess, in a series of murder, blackmail, and espionage. An heir is kidnapped; the Duchess's secret marriage is dissolved in blood; a nun is manipulated to the Cardinal's purpose; and her brother, Bosola, the preferred instrument of evil, is tortured and executed in the manner to which his victims had already accustomed. Sadism bestows erotic pleasure on these principals, and no one with the more conventional human flaws (love, honor) survives to perpetrate them. The tragic plot becomes patchwork and the real adventure is swamped in the author's tedious bromidic style...Bloody and unimportant historical distortion--as Webster's seventeenth century version dramatically showed, the ""Age of Caravaggio"" was more than this.