Expatriate pseudo-writer Wilbur George has made court-jester parasitism into an art form: four creepy but wealthy fellow expatriates (who hate each other) contribute to the upkeep of his Roman villa and matchless dinner parties. And when ancient, horrid Para decides to stop contributing, she dies--moments after taking tea with Wilbur. Wilbur, of course, is quite, quite innocent (unless thoughts can murder), but the three surviving patrons congratulate him on a good clean kill, praise which vain Wilbur can't quite bring himself to deny. But then prissy Jim, under the influence of his latest swinish lover, refuses Wilbur a loan and is promptly found dead--his heart cut out and grilled. My, my. Wilbur's in a terrified stew, his parties lose their piquancy (though, strangely, his writing improves vastly), and the two remaining supporters vie for his loyalty by telling him foul, mutually exclusive stories about each other's thoroughly decadent pasts. ""Not even in a Victorian novel would such a sequence of events have been followed,"" but wry-high stylist Fleetwood (The Girl Who Passed For Normal) uses Wilbur's blissfully selfish, effete charms to swirl the grand guignol touches into the farcical plotting. Only in the last pages, when the tone drops from grisly entertainment to murkily significant dramatics (the sole surviving contributor's murderous suicide) does he lose his grip in an overreach; otherwise--black comedy at its most lurid, refined, and raffish.