In her eighth book appearance, as she approaches her fortieth birthday, V. I. Warshawski is beginning to show signs of wear. The Culpepper Building, where she keeps an office, has been condemned; she is short of money; and she no longer bounces back from a knock on the head the way she used to. Even her friends are growing tired of the game; most have been injured in her past adventures.
Warshawski nevertheless reacts when her sense of social justice is offended. She finds Tamar Hawkings, a mother with three children, living in the basement of the Culpepper Building and attempts to get the family medical care and housing, the latter through an agency with which she has connections. When Hawkings disappears from the hospital she is taken to, Warshawski tries to find her in the Culpepper Building. There she encounters Deirdre Messenger, an acquaintance from the housing agency who is also trying to locate Hawkings. Messenger mentions that she is waiting to meet someone else, so Warshawski leaves her in the office. When Warshawski returns, Messenger is dead. The police suspect Hawkings in the murder, but Warshawski, having witnessed family life at the Messenger home, thinks Fabian Messenger, the dead woman’s husband, is a more likely candidate.
Along with searching for the murderer, Warshawski investigates corruption involved in construction of low-income housing. The two cases provide mutual leads including a drawer full of cash and a truckload of Romanian construction workers. As in her past adventures, Warshawski’s adversaries become violent when she gets too close to the truth. Her pursuit of the cases and her questionable methods also threaten her relationship with Conrad, the black police officer who has become her lover. The mysteries are resolved in a typical, page-turning Paretsky climax that her fans are sure to enjoy.