Matt Scudder is about to take a week's vacation in Ireland when he gets the call: a woman has been kidnapped and brutally murdered despite her husband's payment of ransom. He'll spare no expense to catch and personally deal with the killers. There's practically nothing to go on at the start – the killers have even made their ransom calls from pay phones.
A good part of the rest of the book is taken up with investigative procedure – interviewing potential witnesses at the scene, checking newspaper files for similar crimes and calling old favors from the police Scudder once worked with before alcohol, divorce and trauma drove him from the force.
Scudder needs a lot of help, and he gets it. TJ, the street kid who has made cameo appearances in earlier Scudder novels, shown his ability as a natural detective. Scudder's girlfriend, Elaine, takes on the job of tracking down a victim of the rapists and killers who got out alive. Various police detectives trade information to ascertain the serial nature of seemingly unrelated killings. And two computer hackers prove invaluable in tracking down the various pay phones used to communicate the kidnappers' demands and establishing the area in which they must be living.
Scudder is getting close to identifying the killers when he gets another call – a teenage girl has been taken in much the same way as the serial killers' earlier victims. What had been a time-consuming investigation must be wrapped up quickly in order to save the girl's life. The investigation procedural novel switches to suspense-adventure as Scudder must act as a go-between in the exchange of money for the girl, and then to the final tracking down of the killers.
This report prepared by David Gordon