Britain's battle against Napoleon continues, now moving into the 1813 Vitoria campaign in Spain--but this time out Major Richard Sharpe (Sharpe's Company, Sharpe's Sword, etc.) is more involved as an undercover agent than as a military leader. The mayhem begins when Major Pierre Ducos, Sharpe's arch-enemy, devises a scheme to win the war and destroy Sharpe in the process. The plot? France would sign a secret treaty with the Spanish king, breaking the Spain/UK alliance. But, to bring this off, Ducos needs help from both Spanish Inquisitor Father Hacha (evil) and Spanish guerrilla-chief El Matarife (a monster)--who require mucho money for their services. So, with an assist from Sharpe's old flame La Marquesa (a.k.a. the Golden Whore), Ducos arranges for her rich husband to challenge super-honorable Sharpe to a duel--resulting in the death of the Marques (his fortune going to Ducos) and murder charges against Sharpe. . . who is promptly convicted and hanged! But: could series-hero Sharpe really be dead? Of course not. Thanks to some last-minute gallows substitution, Sharpe is secretly alive--and, with a teenage Spanish sidekick, he sets off on an undercover-spy mission: find La Marquesa, learn why she helped to flame him, and figure out just what the scheme is all about. Sharpe tangles with the bloodthirsty Matarife; he rescues La Marquesa (half villainess/half heroine) from a convent; he's captured by the French; he struggles to preserve his honour, though sorely tempted otherwise. And finally, as Wellington's men march on Vitoria, Sharpe foils the scheme, chops up El Matarife (who has again abducted La Marquesa), and prepares to march with the triumphant Wellington into France itself. Vile villains, political derring-do d/a Dumas, and dollops of zesty gore: another inventive, active outing for the stalwart (if less than endearing) Major Sharpe.