This eighth book in the John Marshall Tanner series finds Tanner, a middle-aged private investigator of the Sam Spade type, looking into the death of Tom Crandall, a friend from the local bar that they both frequent. When Crandall is found dead in a seedy section of San Francisco, the Tenderloin, Tanner does not believe the police verdict of suicide. Knowing Crandall as a war hero and social crusader, he cannot believe that Crandall would commit suicide.
Days before his death, Crandall approached Tanner with problems concerning his marriage to Clarissa, a nightclub singer. He told Tanner that Richard Sands, a multimillionaire businessman, was trying to take Clarissa from him. As an ambulance driver, Crandall could not offer the kind of life to his wife that Sands could, and he wanted to know from Tanner what he could do to stop Sands. Thus when Crandall was found dead, Tanner feared that he had gone too far in his efforts to keep his wife and that Sands had had him killed.
Tanner’s investigation leads him to Crandall’s brother, Nicky, who is mentally ill but may have clues to Tom’s death. The trail also leads to Ellen Simmons, who had dated Tom Crandall before he went to serve in the Vietnam War. While following leads given by these two, Tanner keeps an eye on Sands and finds suspicious links to the Healthways corporation, which runs a series of medical clinics. He finds Healthways employees looking for Nicky Crandall and is threatened by several of them at various turns in his investigation, causing him to look deeper into the company’s affairs.
Most of Tanner’s deduction goes on behind the scenes. As clues fall into place, he comes up with several theories to explain Tom Crandall’s death. He pursues several of them, making accusations along the way, and finally stumbles along one that appears to be correct. It is no more convincing than the others, and author Stephen Greenleaf provides no compelling reasons why this scenario, rather than any of the others, is the correct one.