Sex, intrigue, back-stabbing, under-hand deals, deceit, lying, love, hate, liaisons, death, idealism…these are the wrasp and woof of human daily existence. So it is no wonder that they prevailed in Malta in the 4 years (1598-1601) in which this story takes place. What is sensational is that the main actors of this drama were Knights Hospitallers, Inquisitors, Cathedral Canons and Government Bigwigs…members of the crème de la crème of elitist aristocracy in the feudal Malta of the time.
The story evolves around Robert de Fontmarie, a Hospitaller Knight from the Langue of Provence. Like all idealistic novices, Frère Robert starts his young life of dedication in the Holy Religion (as the Hospitaller Order of St. John calls itself) with starry-eyed enthusiasm. But as he advances, he discovers that the Order is rampant with venal, double-dealing, pompous, loose-living men full of ambition and little else.
The historical sweep of contemporary life in Malta unravels against a backdrop of the four-way power struggle among the super-powers entrenched in tiny Malta with the Supreme Pontiff Clement VIII being called as Arbiter. Occasionally, this surfaces in such over-riding issues as the lucrative slave-trade, court-trials of witches, satanists and prostitutes, taxation of church benefices to finance the Jesuit College…Then knuckles are bared and fighting is fierce and raw. Frère Robert slowly wises up tot he abuses within his beloved Order – among which figure prominently liaisons of the homosexual as well as the heterosexual kind. But all this is as nothing compared to the discovery that, as he digs deeper into it, turns his whole life around. The progressive realisation leads to a climatic denouement that tears him apart.
The racy style of this novel transports us through a fast-moving sequence of events that makes history come alive. It is a no-holds-barred narration that evolves in a relentlessly gripping realistic vividness.