As in some other recent novels, Dick Francis here develops the plot around a subject other than horse racing, though there are a few perfunctory nods to it; his hero again is a likable idealist whose specialized knowledge of a field leads both the police and a private investigator to seek his assistance, this time in uncovering a liquor-switching scam and a truck hijacking problem that prove to have a common source.
Thirty-two-year-old Tony Beach, recently widowed and still mourning, is the narrator, and his moral conscience pervades the book, endowing it with a sensitivity that has become a Dick Francis hallmark.
Early in the novel, what had been only a matter of fraudulent labeling and disappearing tankers takes on a dangerous new dimension when a man is murdered in an unusual and horrible manner that shocks even the coolheaded police professionals.
With the stakes thus raised, the attempt to locate the killer as well as the source of the bogus spirits becomes more urgent. Tony spends less time at his shop and more with private detective Gerard McGregor (a self-styled “investigative consultant”), as the pair finesse the police and move in on the murderer.
The dramatic high points of the novel are a lengthy chase, in which pursuer Beach becomes the pursued, and the climactic scene, in which Beach and McGregor finally apprehend the villain in a unique and unforgettable manner.