Yorkshire's coppers Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are investigating the suicide of prominent businessman Pal Maciver. It seems to be a clear-cut case: he shot himself while sitting at his desk in his locked study.
But things are not quite what they seem. When Pascoe digs deeper, he finds threads going back to another, almost identical death -- that of Maciver's father. And even more disturbing: Pascoe's boss, Detective Superintendent Dalziel, was the officer on that case.
With Dalziel checking his every move, Pascoe is forced to lead his own investigation, plunging into the past to uncover truths about the Maciver family, particularly Pal's relationship with his step-mother, the beautiful and enigmatic Kay Kafka. He soon realizes that the implications of Maciver's death stretch far beyond the borders of Yorkshire. And when a key witness -- exotic hooker Dolores, "Lady of Pain" -- disappears, the death takes on a far more complicated and mysterious face.