Crombie uses the evolution and historical details of London's Crystal Palace district to frame her novel—essentially a police procedural but for the intertwining relationships of the investigating detectives, their connections to Scotland Yard and friendships with men who are intimate with the main player in a murder case. A fight breaks out one night in a pub as guitarist Andy Monahan recognizes a face from his past. An angry bystander, a solicitor, inserts himself into the brawl, unleashing a stream of invective at the musician. Later that night, the solicitor's body is found in a seedy Crystal Palace hotel room, trussed, gagged and murdered.
Detective Inspector Gemma Jones of South London's Murder Investigation Team is assigned the case, splitting critical early evidence-gathering with newly promoted Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. Both detectives have links to Scotland Yard: Jones is married to Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, who is on leave to care for their three children until he can arrange appropriate schooling for the youngest. Talbot has a close friendship with another Scotland Yard detective who works with Duncan. These associations prove a double-edged sword as the murder investigation moves forward.
While combing through the dead solicitor's recent activities and associations, Jones and Talbot revisit the incident at the bar. Melody interviews Andy Monahan at a recording studio, where she witnesses his extraordinary performance with a young singer. In spite of herself, Talbot is attracted to the musician, a fact that leads to complications in her capacity as a detective—as does Duncan and Gemma's friendship with a couple encouraging Andy's career. Unfortunately for Talbot, her friendship with the young musician becomes an obstacle that affects her job.
These very personal complications flesh out the novel and give it more texture than the average procedural, the intimate human connections that create conflicts and moral dilemmas. Although Duncan's attempts to solve his domestic problem and return to duty at the Yard are frustrating, he is enthusiastic about his wife's progress on the outrageous South London murder. Unfortunately, the case becomes more complex with the death of a second victim, also a solicitor, also trussed, gagged and left dead in Crystal Palace, though this time in his apartment bedroom. Whatever the links between the two victims, that information is critical in solving headline-grabbing murders in which musician Andy Monahan seems to be a key element.
Crombie opens her novel with a hint of the history behind the murders fifteen years earlier, traumatic events in Andy's life at thirteen, when a lonely young boy cares for a worsening alcoholic mother strikes up a friendship with a beautiful and enigmatic widowed neighbor, and endures the bullying of two uptown boys who have assessed him an easy target. Strumming the guitar his father left behind when he abandoned the family, teaching himself to play as a way to pass the time, Andy is unaware of the boys' interest until it is too late to distract them. The tragic consequences of this conflict inform the mystery, planting the seed of murder: "We never mean to do a lot of things, but that doesn't undo then." As past and present are explored in the light of the bizarre murders, Jones and Talbot discover the identity of a killer who isn't finished, racing against time to abort a deadly act of revenge.