Three criminals get more than they bargained for when they try to blackmail a Detroit business owner with proof of his extramarital affair. Businessman Harry Mitchell's latest visit to his lover Cini's apartment is disrupted by men in masks. They demand $105,000 from him, or else they'll show his wife Barbara the home movies they shot of Harry's trysts with Cini.
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Distraught, Harry calls his lawyer Jim O'Boyle for help. O'Boyle recommends calling the police. Instead, Harry tells Barbara about the affair, thinking that he's eliminated the blackmailers' leverage. But they go one step further, abducting him and showing him a new home movie -- one that shows Cini being shot and killed with Harry's gun. Now they demand that he pay up, or they'll frame him for the murder.
Harry needs time to think, so he tells the criminals it will take a few days to round up the money for their first payment. But in reality, he's trying to figure out who they are, and work his own angle against them. The first one he identifies is Leo Frank, the owner of a strip club where Cini once worked. Leo is working with Alan Raimy, the mastermind of the extortion. Thief and killer Bobby Shy rounds out the crew.
Through a series of carefully planned encounters, Harry begins turning the criminals against each other. He offers Alan $52,000 instead of the full $105,000, convincing him to tell the others that he wouldn't pay at all. He gets to Bobby's girlfriend Doreen and slips her some false information, sowing discord between them. He confronts Leo, who offers to tell the police about what his partners did to Cini.
Meanwhile, a union representative angry at Harry for an altercation they had over starting contract talks early blows up Harry's car just outside his plant. This gives him an idea. Alan gave him a briefcase to leave the $52,000 in, so Harry gets an identical case and rigs it with a bomb. Only Alan comes to pick it up -- Bobby killed Leo, and Alan killed Bobby. He also kidnapped and drugged Harry's wife Barbara, making it all the more satisfying when Harry's bomb explodes in Alan's van, killing him.
Best part of story, including ending:
This novel is more focused than many of Leonard's other novels -- only a few characters and a single plotline throughout. This gives it a strong sense of momentum throughout.
Best scene in story:
When Harry's car blows up, everyone else is shocked, but he barely seems to care. He's so caught up in flipping his extortionists on their heads that all the bombing does is give him an idea of how to take them out.
Opinion about the main character:
Sometimes it was frustrating that Harry was so adamant about not going to the police about the blackmail and extortion, since his wife already knew about the affair and he basically had nothing to lose. The whole mess could have been avoided.