Jerry Broadfield, an admittedly crooked cop, hires Matthew Scudder to help him prove he's not shaking down a prostitute, Portia Carr. Carr claims Broadfield charges her $100 per week, plus occasional sex, to let her stay in business. Broadfield is working with Abner Prejaninan, an investigator to expose corruption in the New York Police Department.
Scudder, himself a former cop and now an unlicensed private investigator, believes Broadfield is exaggerating the level of corruption. He is, however, willing to take his money and try to persuade Carr to back off. In between his questioning and seeking, Scudder spends a good deal of time in bars. He's an alcoholic, but refuses to face up to his problem.
The job becomes more complex, however, when Carr's body turns up in Broadfield's apartment. Broadfield claims he answered a telephone call sending him out to Brooklyn to meet with a go-between who can help him get Carr off his back. There's no go-between, but while Broadfield is away, the body is dumped in his apartment. Now, he's prepared to pay Scudder a much higher fee to find the killer.
Broadfield sends Scudder to pick up his fee from his wife, and while he's there Scudder has sex with Diana Broadfield. It looks like the beginning of an intense affair.
Scudder has also been getting his sometime girlfriend, a prostitute named Elaine Mardell, to get background on Carr.
As he delves into Broadfield's affairs Scudder discovers that he hoped to write a book about police corruption. Carr was also planning a book on the life of a prostitute. The connection seems to be a Doug Fuhrmann, a writer who hopes to ghost one or both books.
Then Leon Maunch, an assistant to the mayor and a former client of Portia Carr's apparently commits suicide just after Scudder questions him about his relationship with the late prostitute. Then Fuhrmann is murdered just after asking Scudder to see him about some information.
Almost anyone in the police department might have a motive to kill Broadfield. The other murders convince him, however, that he is looking for someone else. He feels under pressure to catch him before he kills again.
This report prepared by David Gordon