When drug kingpin Oliphant Kenward Knapp is murdered, his rivals briefly lie dormant, then start circling, usurping his turf, his couriers, his suppliers. Ralph W. Ember, “Panicking Ralph,” owner of that swank social club the Monty, has made a move, but it’s been countered by two hired thugs imported from London who blazed away with pricey Sokolovsky automatics, killing his mistress Christine Tranter. The assassins, Ralph is tipped, hang out at southeast London’s Sleeping Sentinel pub, a bit of news he quietly passes on to Christine’s husband Les, a very successful (perhaps suspiciously successful) pet-products supplier. Meanwhile, creepy Keith Vine and violent Stanley Stanfield pop around to the Monty and drop clues that they know what Ralph’s up to and most definitely disapprove. They want control. Over on the side of law and order, Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur, still working for Desmond Iles, the higher-up he cuckolded, decides to go undercover to break up the new alliances, a move that puts him on the Vine/Stanfield payroll, with orders to lard Gerry Reid’s digs with drugs, then stage a police raid, effectively putting paid to Reid’s syndicate. There’ll be another murder and several dozen double-crosses before Harpur’s daughters end his descent into the drug trade, leaving the area ripe for the vultures who’ve been waiting for all along.
Like most James novels (Kill Me, 1999, etc.), a moral dust-up, with bad men landing on their feet, good ones sliding into crime, and young girls like Harpur’s teenaged lover Denise acting as the fulcrum.