Peter Conrad and Chase Walker make each other's acquaintance in Florence during the Sixties: Peter is a fledgling writer who is also in the midst of acknowledging his homosexuality; Chase is a golden boy to whom the world responds at a whistle; they never become serious lovers, but they do cruise together. Then Chase accepts an arresting proposition from an aging Italian queen named Niccolo: Chase will marry a contessa in Niccolo's family (bereft otherwise of a male heir), providing sons; in return he'll be granted his freedom and nearly limitless funds. And, meanwhile, Peter falls in love with beautiful Lorenzo, a Florentine boy who eventually marries--yet still on occasion sees Peter. Twenty years pass. Chase and Peter, both living in New York, are invited to take a cruise up the Nile on a yacht chartered by Chase's contessa-wife--with the other passengers to include Lorenzo, Niccolo, and Chase's son (from his contractual early duty). So all the novel's characters are brought together again for sumptuous company, if not exactly apotheosis--while Ferro counterpoints the Italy/Nile adventures with an historical fantasy involving Chase's most distinguished ancestor: a leader of American freemasonry in the 1800s, who successfully convinced the park-builder Olmsted to to construct a secret Masonic Temple below Central Park. By themselves, these historical/speculative chapters have some interest; and Ferro (The Family of Max Desir) is able--by contrasting the period material with Peter's and Chase's stories--to suggest a likeness between the secret societies of homosexuality and Masonry. But, like Ferro's uneven debut, this novel isn't vigorous or artful enough to make a strong narrative out of its intriguing notions and delicate perceptions; and, as a result, his fiction's least impressive aspects--the romantic effusions, the precious posturings--tend to dominate.