Emma Bowles is convinced that someone is out to kill her, so much so that she consults the police regarding two attempts on her life. Detectives Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer are inclined to accept her interpretation of events and an investigation is soon underway. Admittedly, Carella is somewhat distracted in his pursuit of his daily activities. The individual indicted for the murder of Carella’s father in a robbery gone sour is finally coming to trial. Carella was present at the capture of his father’s assailant (as recounted in the earlier 87th Precinct novel, WIDOWS) and refused to extract street justice. Thus, he must endure considerable emotional distress as the American legal system attempts to safeguard the rights of the worthy and the wicked in equal measure.

Meanwhile, Martin Bowles engages the services of a private detective to protect his wife. Carella and Meyer, however, discover that the bodyguard is not all that he appears to be. They begin to suspect that his objective is less to protect than to prey upon the unfortunate Emma. When information surfaces that Martin Bowles would profit more from his wife’s death than from a divorce, their suspicions increase, fueled too by Bowles’s involvement with a younger and less discriminating companion.

As Carella and his colleagues strive to protect Emma Bowles, the trial of his father’s killer takes a turn for the worse. The case for the prosecution begins to disintegrate under the hammer blows of a highly effective defense attorney, and Carella begins to lose what faith he has in the system when it appears that his father’s death will most probably go unpunished. In point of fact, the dominant theme of this latest saga of the 87th Precinct appears to be that the guilty, if possessed of a clever mind or competent legal representation, will frequently escape their just deserts.