The author takes a fertile if familiar plot and concept set in 18th century. England, and withers it almost immediately. Maurice Lydiard, a Richard III type of villain -- misshapen in body and soul -- commits his murders (a servant drowned, a grandsire smothered with a pillow, etc.) without smiling. While Maurice behaves so loathsomely -- neglecting a soft little wife, ousting old servitors, expediently exploiting persons and political/religious positions -- there are two whose love for Maurice is extra-dimensional. One is crippled daughter Alice, whose child's presence pops up here and there years after her death; the other is the mysterious Jane Steward (Stuart) who lives in Quaker sobriety nearby and is probably the daughter of deposed James II. Jane discourses throughout on the Other/Better/Higher Life and while Maurice is strangely moved, the reader is overcome with ennui.