Pope Clement XII is slowly dying. The behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing at the Vatican is intense. State Inquisitor of Venice Senator Montorio wants someone he can trust on the scene, spying for him and actively promoting the candidacy of his choice. To get this trusted spy, he hauls Alessandro Amato in on false charges of salt smuggling. If convicted, Alessandro will be killed. This is enough to convince his brother, castrato Tito Amato, to make the trip. Not willingly, mind you.
When Tito gets to Rome, there is one pleasant surprise. His love from INTERRUPTED ARIA, Liya, is in Rome. They renew their friendship, which Tito would like to see become far more than that. While doing the bidding of Senator Montorio, Tito becomes an unwilling (again) accomplice to the murder of Gemma, a maidservant. In order to keep from being arrested for that murder, Tito is coerced by the head of another faction to spy and promote a different candidate. Life is very complicated for Tito, who just wants to make lovely music and have a lovely wife.
CRUEL MUSIC, while set in the baroque period in Rome, deals with emotions that know no time. Greed, power, lust . . . the Vatican has never had a monopoly on those things. While this is definitely a historical mystery, the issues addressed are as current as any election, the politicking just as intense then as now. CRUEL MUSIC is a testament to Graves' talent as a writer; she makes "then" interesting, educational, and entertaining.