At the core of this spooky yarn, swaddled in Anne Ricean supernatural strands, is a concern half-concealed before in the author's Shadows from the Fire (1995)--the ugly tension between the sexes, in which women are the losers, big-time. Here, two women, 50 years apart, attract demonic lovers and amass ancient curses, while even their peripheral sisters-in-arms wilt like moths: ``Passion and injustice have a way of marking the very air around them and of reverberating down the years.'' From the time of an Inquisition in Venice comes the origin of this story of cruelty, terrible passion, and two artifacts belonging to an apostate priest who has turned to the occult: a gold ring and a silver mask, which appear and disappear in the lives of Desiree and Jenny. When English Jenny discovers the mask just before WW I, she braves the rage of Papa and the fears of Gramps to put it on her face. The world is then revealed as a ``terrible lonely place.'' There's more magic afoot when a strange man appears from nowhere, saying odd things. The grown-up Jenny goes on to endure a disastrous marriage to mundane Andrew; she's repulsed by sex and ``swamped by the ordinary.'' Andrew's sister Yvonne marries Theo, needy and vulnerable, it seemed, until his own strange metamorphosis. A ghastly climax ensues when all four meet, with Theo's hapless mother and sister, in his Irish estate, Kilashane. Kilashane, much later, is a personal mystery to Dee, who, in 1967, will also have eerie visitations there, even waver into a past and lose the gold ring she'd found. Kilashane is now a ruin, but who will tell Dee what caused this? She marries fascinating American Peter Eggli, who, at the last, murmurs that he will ``explain everything,'' as he places that gold ring on her finger. A bouquet of fleurs-de-mal and close-packed scary stuff; people and places not what they seem; promising escapes with dead ends, etc. Chilly con carne.