Gerhard zum Busche is a dreamy young man of little experience who idles about the boulevards of Paris, distracting himself with the passing scene. When he comes to the attention of the aging cynic Leon Ducasse, that bored man of the world amuses himself by manipulating Gerhard into a romantic rendezvous at Madame Stephanie’s bordello, the Golden Bell.
The woman who guides Gerhard to the Golden Bell is the Countess Irene Kargane, wife of a coarse sea captain with whom she is trapped in a loveless relationship. The two would-be lovers are given a room—not the one usually taken by the Countess—but before the innocent Gerhard even realizes what is expected of him they see a face through the smoky transom, hear screams, and upon opening their door find a woman dead on their threshold and no one else in sight.
In part 2 the narrative shifts to Etienne Laurens, a young officer in the Deuxieme Bureau, and his superior, Inspector Dobrowsky, a descendant of such pompous literary progenitors as Sherlock Holmes and Poe’s M. Dupin. The inspector does not rely much on forensic work but prides himself on his understanding of psychology. The murder occurs at the time Jack the Ripper is at work in England, and some observers speculate that Jack has crossed the channel to claim a victim at the Golden Bell. Dobrowsky knows better.
The offended husband, Captain Kargane, show up at Gerhard’s rooms in part 3 and forces the duel that sets off the denouement. Before either dueler is hurt, the prescient inspector appears on the scene and precipitates the events that rapidly uncover the murderer. Once again justice triumphs.