Renaissance is the era; Venice is the place; and the featured hero is Sigismondo da Roca (Axe for an Abbot, 1996 etc.), unofficial Mr. Fixit for papal bigwigs and the aristocracy. In Venice for the funeral of an old friend, Sigismondo is hired by Vettor Darin, father of the late wife of Lord Niccolo Ermolin. Niccolo's stilettoed body has just been discovered in his palace study by his young, pregnant second wife Isabella. While Sigismondo tries to sort out means and motives, Niccolo's brother Lord Rinaldo quickly takes charge of the family's ample fortunes--freezing out Niccolo's wastrel son Marco and arranging matters so that murder charges are brought against Pasquale Scolar, a would-be suitor of Isabella's, the son of a doge whose elevated position is coveted by Vettor Darin. That's just for starters. Throw in a second murder; Niccolo's illegitimate black son, Cosmo; an assassin stalking Sigismondo to avenge a brother's death; the Venetian fleet's forays against the Turks, with rampant corruption at all levels; a procession of corpses--poisoned, stabbed, drowned or decapitated- -and our hero's up-close and personal encounter with the torture chambers beneath the doges' place. With some help from influential friends, Sigismondo pinpoints the original killer and leaves the city in one piece accompanied, as ever, by his clever, insignificant, and devoutly relieved servant Benno. Only the site has changed from the five past adventures in this series: Characters, palaces, and slums have different names, but the tumultuous catalogue of crimes--major and minor--stays the same, leaving the history-challenged reader feeling more besieged than entertained.