Squeezed between a wife whose considerable inherited wealth is exempt from California’s community property laws and an importunate bookmaker who’s pressing for his money, gallery owner Herb Carmody hatches an ingenious plan to kill his wife and establish an alibi by getting an unwitting near-double to impersonate her while he’s off on a buying trip. Meantime, Herb’s drinking buddy, small-time con man Sid Balzarian, plots to feather his own nest by kidnapping Jane Carmody for a million-dollar ransom he generously plans to split with Herb—tipping him off and offering him a finder’s fee—after it’s all over. Half a continent away in Minneapolis, private-duty nurse Ellen Carmody, whose flaming red hair looks just like Jane’s, accepts an offer to trade houses for a week with the Bay Area gallery owner whose fairy-tale home promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Arriving in the exclusive village of Tiburon with her recently divorced sister Claire, a freelance writer, Ellen is promptly snatched from a supermarket parking lot by Sid and his accomplice Barry O’Farrell, who phones Herb’s house to tell him that they’ve kidnapped his wife—not knowing that Herb’s already enjoying his victory lap in Seattle after killing Jane and burying her corpse in a shallow grave in Big Sur.
The characters are no more complex than they need to be to keep the pot boiling, but Jacobs (Rocking the Cradle, not reviewed, etc.) has designed a series of interlocking schemes that provide modest, efficient thrills.