This book is not for the squeamish. Nor does it claim to be a complete historical record of crime and punishment taking place in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Malta.
The present publication is the result of various research visits to the Vatican Archives spread over ten years or so and of going through some 200-odd volumes of correspondence and miscellaneous documentation, comprising many thousands of manuscript folios and varying from beautifully clear handwriting to the nightmarish.
True, daring and often dramatic episodes of crime have always attracted the attention of contemporary eyewitness observers. Perhaps even more magnetic was the spine-chilling retribution meted out by authority. Tucked away safely in the role of mere observers, whether of the moralistic self-righteous and indignant sort or simply as welcome spectators of the exercise of State or ecclesiastical power over errant subjects, they have left us a considerable corpus of primary source evidence of what they witnessed, in the form of
diaries, letters and descriptive accounts from the period. A whole world later and from the comfort of our technologically-overloaded homes, it is our turn to be the privileged and willing spectators of history – buffered and secure as we are – against the horrors they describe, thanks to the distance of a few centuries.