Kim Dakkinen, a high-priced prostitute wants out. She hires Matthew Scudder, a policeman turned private detective, to tell her pimp, Chance, that she's leaving. Kim says she's afraid that Chance will persuade her to stay if she faces him.
Matt taps his street sources and checks the bars, but finding Chance proves to be a job in itself. When he runs him down, Chance tells Matt Kim wasted her money – he would never hold a girl against her will. In fact, Chance has six women. He provides an apartment, clothing, food and all their necessities and keeps all their earnings. He's sophisticated, well dressed and a patron of the arts. He does not fit anyone's stereotype of a pimp.
Matt collects his fee, plus a bonus, and heads for one of his daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. But the next day he reads that a call girl has been “cut to ribbons,” and it turns out to be Kim. Matt, after eight days of sobriety, gives in to the urge to drink. He keeps his drinking to two a day for a short time, then has a blackout and winds up in the hospital.
Matt is sure Chance is the killer, but Chance wants to hire Matt to prove he is not. A high-class pimp, he runs high-class girls. There's a poet, an artist, a lover of classical music. Chance himself is a connoisseur of African art, and much of his money goes to his collection.
The murder looks like the work of a crazed serial killer, but Matt is searching for other possibilities. Among his clues are Kim's expensive fur coat and emerald ring, which Chance tells Matt he did not buy for her. Matt hopes that tracing these items might lead to Kim's killer.
Then a young hoodlum attacks Matt, apparently a mugger. Matt fights him off and keeps the gun he's been threatened with. The next night, as Matt leaves an AA meeting he's warned to stay off the case by a man who knows about the mugger Matt beat up.
With every reason to want a drink, Matt keeps fighting to stay sober.
Then another one of Chance's hookers, Sunny, commits suicide. A transsexual prostitute, not apparently connected with this case, is slashed in a Queens motel. The wounds are similar to Kim's. Yet, after the threats and the disappearance of Kim's emerald ring, Matt is reluctant to believe the killer is crazy.
But as Matt gets closer to figuring out who the killer is, he knows he's also closer to being the next victim.
This report prepared by David Gordon
Unofficial private detective Matthew Scudder is hired by a high-price hooker to 'get her out of the life'. When she's killed soon after he assures her that she'll be safe from her pimp, Scudder is hired to find the culprit responsible, while at the same time waging a horrendous fight with his alcoholism.
This report prepared by Jack Sommersby