After a fellow party guest inspires him to a brief, utterly unmotivated spat that’s by far the most interesting episode in his humdrum fifth appearance, Chicago freelance writer Emerson Ward (Death Came Dressed in White, not reviewed, etc.) leaves at the behest of his old friend Brady (Puppy) Barnes, a commercial photographer who’s in deep trouble. An accident during his current shoot for the Thane Agency revealed to Puppy, though not yet to anybody else, that the pricey prop diamonds from the Winton Collection he’s been using in the shoot are paste. Even though security’s pretty casual around his office, Puppy insists that only three people could have switched the fakes for the real stones: his chief photographer Nick Fratelli, his chief assistant Marty Hopkins, and Winton caretaker Irv Steinmetz. Before Ward can narrow the field any further, though, somebody takes a shot at his pal, and before the sick Puppy emerges from Intensive Care, somebody else sneaks in and finishes the job. Ward responds by trying a little of this (going undercover as a writer at Thane, tipping the wink to a pathologist who figures out how Puppy was killed) and a little of that (chatting up each of Puppy’s heirs after the will is read, taking a closer look at some family photos that reveal what his late friend was really like), but not very much of anything.
Saddest of all, Ward treats the guest from the opening party sequence, when she finally returns, with a virtuous condescension that makes you just want to slap him.