After witnessing a robbery, private investigator Kinsey Millhone is drawn into a case involving a crooked cop and a local shoplifting crime syndicate. Phillip Lanahan is in a load of debt and doesn't know what to do. He has tried to remain positive with the hopes he will receive some sort of miracle but unfortunately the situation is looking bleak. Thankfully, he knows a bookie named Dante who may be able to help out. At first the bookie is reluctant, but when he sees the assets Phillip has such as his Porsche he agrees to loan him a substantial amount of money. However, Phillip squanders most of it on the luxuries of life and is unable to pay Dante back. Knowing he could easily make up the money, Phillip flies to Las Vegas to try his luck at gambling with the rest of the cash that remains. However, luck is not on his side and he loses everything and then some.
When Phillip returns to his hotel, Dante and his brother Cappi are waiting for him and are not pleased with the turn of events. Dante threatens Phillip's life but Phillip begs for another chance. However, Dante does not trust him. He says he will take Phillip's car and consider the debt paid. Reluctantly, Phillip agrees and heads to the parking garage with Cappi and his friend Peter to give him the keys and show off the car. However, Peter and Cappi have other plans. They attack Phillip who begs for his life, but to no avail. The men throw Phillip off the parking garage where he falls several stories to the pavement below, dying instantly.
Meanwhile, Kinsey Millhone, private investigator and hopeless romantic, decides to take a day to herself and shop at Nordstrom's, a rare treat for a woman on the edge who is constantly being pulled into cases that take her life on a rollercoaster of fun. While perusing the women's section, Kinsey watches a suspicious woman along with her accomplice. She follows them both throughout the store and notices the woman shoplift several items. Rather than engage the woman herself, I mean it is her day off, Kinsey approaches a security officer regarding the situation. He immediately arrests the woman who calls herself Aubrey. While Aubrey is taken away, Kinsey notices her accomplice making an exit. She follows him to the parking garage but loses him among the cars. However, out of nowhere a car comes right at her at full speed. Kinsey dodges the car and narrowly escapes being run over.
Kinsey being the private investigator that she is decides to head to the police station to follow up on Aubrey and question her about the accomplice who nearly killed her. However, right before she arrives Aubrey is released from jail and kills herself. Kinsey finds the circumstances surrounding the supposed suicide too convenient and once again finds herself pulled into a case. Of course, what's a case without running into a former lover? Cheney Phillips a man that broke Kinsey's heart one too many times and someone she is not too interested in running into again. Cheney invites Kinsey out to dinner with an officer friend of his Len Priddy, a man Kinsey absolutely despises due to him being friends with her first ex-husband. Of course, Len is robbing the cradle with his younger girlfriend Abby who decides to tag along as well.
At dinner, both Cheney and Len are interested to know what theories Kinsey has created about the case. She states that while it is too early to tell, she is leaning towards Aubrey being a part of a shoplifting crime syndicate. Lenny thinks the idea is preposterous and that there is no evidence to support such a theory. This of course enrages Kinsey who states the fact Aubrey died right after her release and that her accomplice took off proves otherwise. After dinner, Cheney approaches Kinsey and encourages her to pursue her theory since Len is an idiot. Kinsey says she will consider it but is unsure whether it is worth her time. Later that night, Kinsey receives a call from Aubrey's boyfriend who is devastated over her death. He believes it wasn't suicide but murder and begs Kinsey to take on the case. Seeing her time off rapidly slipping away, Kinsey reluctantly agrees, once again being pulled into a case by chance.
The same night, across town, Dante is cleaning up loose ends with his brother Cappi who murdered Aubrey. Dante was afraid she would talk to the police and turn them in since she was the leader of their shoplifting ring. However, Dante is also suspicious of his brother as well because he thinks he is releasing inside information to an officer on the inside with an attempt to get him arrested and takeover the business. Knowing that the police will eventually figure out his involvement, Dante knows he must plan an escape or a way to have Cappi take the fall. However, the situation is dangerous and knows he must be careful or everything could blow up in his face.
A few days later, Kinsey has turned up nothing in the case and is extremely frustrated. However, she decides to return to Nordstrom's to see if she can find any clues. She asks security if they happen to have access to the security camera footage in the parking garage. They say they do and Kinsey spends the afternoon reviewing the footage from the day she was almost run down. She finds the moment the car careens out of the garage and is able to freeze a frame on the bumper sticker on the car. After a few more days of investigating, Kinsey is able to locate the car and follows it for several days. She discovers that the accomplice has been moving stolen goods to a charity drop box where the items are then taken to a warehouse and sent out to second hand stores around California. A genius operation, for sure, but easy to track if you are Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey decides to look up the property documents to the warehouse in an effort to see who owns it and is able to identify Dante as the main man behind the shoplifting operation.
After compiling all of her data into a report, Kinsey heads into the police station and meets with Cheney, proud of all the work she has done and hoping to get the police's involvement. However, Cheney is less than thrilled with her findings and tells her to drop the case. Kinsey is taken aback by this, as she has done so much work to assist but Cheney reveals that she could be putting at risk the identity of an agent they have working undercover within the operation. Kinsey finds this odd as she was never informed of such a situation or that an informant was indeed working with police. She demands to know why he didn't fill her in but he says he never expected her to go this far. He begs her to drop the case once again but of course, Kinsey being Kinsey, isn't going to leave this alone.
Later that night, Kinsey returns to her office only to find an old friend, Pinkey waiting for her. He tells her he has gotten himself into some trouble and passes her a manila envelope, he explains there are photos in there that could do a lot of damage and begs her to hold onto them. Kinsey has no desire to get dragged into his drama, since she is already dealing with her own. Pinkey continues to plea with her but Kinsey sets her foot down and demands that he leave her office immediately. Pinkey is saddened his friend will not come to his aid and leaves with the photos. A few hours later, Len arrives at Kinsey's office. She demands he leaves as she has no interest in sharing her findings with the investigation with him due to Cheney asking her to drop the case. Len says he isn't there for that and demands she hand over the photos Pinkey gave her. She says she doesn't have them and doesn't know what he is talking about. Len throws Kinsey into the wall and says if she doesn't give him those photos she will be in a world of pain by the time he is done with her.
Shaken and very upset, Kinsey searches for Pinkey as now she is quite intrigued as to what was in the photos. She manages to hunt Pinkey down at a diner and over coffee she demands he tell her what the hell is going on. Pinkey says the photos are from Dante's shoplifting ring and photographic evidence of his dealings. Len had wanted them as a form of blackmail and Pinkey warns that Len is a dirty cop and not to trust him. Kinsey agrees, the knot in her shoulder from Len's assault the proof. Pinkey, obviously nervous and distraught, leaves the diner and Kinsey worried for his safety decides to follow him home.
When Kinsey arrives at Pinkey's house she can tell something is terribly wrong. Sneaking in through the backdoor she finds his wife being held at gunpoint by Dante's brother Cappi. Kinsey tries to calm the situation down and Cappi demands that she burn all of Pinkey's photos as well as the negatives. Kinsey knows this is her only evidence regarding Dante's operations and refuses, however Cappi threatens to kill Pinkey's wife. Reluctantly, Kinsey destroys the photos. Satisfied, Cappi begins to leave but Pinkey is not letting him escape. Grabbing his shotgun he fires off several shots at Cappi who shoots off some in return. This leads to Pinkey's wife getting caught in the crossfire and before Kinsey can push her to safety she is shot. Kinsey calls an ambulance and has her rushed to the hospital. Now realizing how dire the situation has become, Kinsey knows there is only one man she can appeal to—Dante himself.
The next day, Kinsey meets with Dante in his warehouse and fills him in on the situation. He reveals to Kinsey that Len is trying to work with his brother Cappi to take over the business. He knows that things are about to head south fast and has every intention to leave the country. However, he does feel bad regarding Pinkey's wife. Knowing he has to make amends for the situation, Dante calls the hospital and agrees to pay for all of her treatment. Kinsey is touched by the criminal's gesture yet knows that his operation must be shut down for good. Surprisingly, Dante agrees and reveals he has plans to destroy all computer records of his business and let the entire thing go up in smoke. He refuses to let a crooked cop and his brother throw him in jail only to then continue to run the business. He reveals to Kinsey the computers will be wiped clean that following week.
A week passes, and Kinsey is unsure of what to do. She knows she can't trust the police with any of the information as she has no idea how many cops Len has corrupted and promised funds from the operation once he takes over. Realizing this could all get very ugly, Kinsey decides to assist Dante. However, the morning she plans to head over there and beg him to not delete his computer records, Pinkey calls to tell her his wife has died. Enraged and mourning, Pinkey tells Kinsey he is going to settle this once and for all with Dante. Knowing this could not end well, Kinsey drives to the warehouse to warn Dante and prevent bloodshed.
Unfortunately, as Kinsey arrives a raid teams has been set up and takes on the warehouse. This leads to an all-out brawl with shots fired on all sides. Cappi is killed and in the midst of the firefight, Dante destroys all of the computer records and tries to flee. Kinsey cuts him off and tells him she can end this and have Len take the fall but she needs his help. Realizing that Kinsey is only going to herself killed, Dante brutally attacks her and knocks her out cold. He then flees into the tunnels underneath the warehouse.
When Kinsey comes to, the raid has been successful however, with the business records destroyed there is no evidence left. Enraged, Len makes a scene and blames Kinsey for interfering with his work. Kinsey, knowing the truth, smiles as she knows that one day Len will get what is coming to him. With the case filed in unsolved, she decides it is time to take a break from private investigating for a while.
Three months later, a package arrives from Dante who is revealed to be living in Europe. Inside, is a plethora of cash for Kinsey and an apology for attacking her. He also has provided data that implicates Len in the crime syndicate and he hopes that she can take him down. Not wanting to get involved in such a matter, Kinsey drives to the local television station. She swiftly drops off the package of evidence on a reporter's desk and leaves before being questioned, knowing that once the news runs the story about a crooked cop that Len will be outed on the force and sent to prison.
With another case officially closed, Kinsey finally is ready to take her much needed vacation.
Best part of story, including ending:
I absolutely hated how the novel was written from more than one perspective and not strictly Kinsey's. The point of writing a mystery is to discover what is happening as the main character experiences it. However, being able to read from the villain's point of view ruins the mystery and suspense of the novel.
Best scene in story:
I loved the scene between Kinsey and the crooked cop Len as he threatened her life over the pictures. It is obvious Len knows many people who could snuff Kinsey out and the threat feels real. The scene was a real page turner.
Opinion about the main character:
Kinsey tends to bend the rules and blur the lines between being a good private investigator and letting the criminal get the upper hand. In this novel, she actually assisted in the villian's escape and it was a call of capturing the bad guy or letting him go to capture someone even worse, the crooked cop Len.