It's the Christmas season and in sharp contrast to the joyful tidings attendant to this time of year, the detectives of the 87th Precinct are called to an apartment occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher greets them by announcing that he's just returned from a business trip. Mrs. Fletcher is lying dead on the floor, having been savagely stabbed to death.
The kitchen window is open on a twelve-degree night and there are muddy footprints leading from the window to the bedroom. The bedroom window is broken and it appears that someone has gone out of the window in a big hurry. There's plenty of other evidence to suggest that a burglar has broken in and killed Mrs. Fletcher and that Mr. Fletcher walked into the scene just as it was playing out.
The lead detective, Steve Carella, offers his sympathies to Mr. Fletcher who replies by saying, "My wife was a no-good bitch and I'm glad that someone killed her."
Fletcher is a lawyer who certainly knows his rights, but his attitude leads Carella to suspect that he may have been involved in his wife's untimely demise. But early on, the detectives turn up a suspect who confesses to burglarizing the apartment in the hope of finding something to sell so that he could buy drugs. Mrs. Fletcher interrupted him, he says, and he wound up stabbing her.
Case closed. Or is it? Carella still has his nagging suspicions and refuses to let go of the investigation. The case takes a number of turns and in the end, this is one of the better books in this long-running series. Fans of the 87th Precinct will not be disappointed.