Denton, an American novelist and ex-town marshal, returns to London after months in prison in Transylvania on an assignment from his publisher that results in the forfeiture of an expensive automobile and his manuscript. Settling in with his faithful retainer, Harold Atkins, Denton must now rewrite his novel from memory, well past deadline. But Dentonís life will never be simple, and this novel is no exception.
Still obsessed with Janet Striker, a character from The Frightened Man who bears a scar on her face from the last dangerous encounter with Denton and his enemies, Denton anxiously reads a telegram from Striker that suggests a meeting, much to his relief. So Denton is already preoccupied when he opens a note, a request for assistance from a young woman, Mary Thomason, who is in imminent danger. Unfortunately, her missive is a month old.
Then there are the many messages from a stranger, Albert Cosgrove, who waxes friendly and furious, requesting signed copies of all Dentonís novels while accusing him of stealing his material. Denton has no idea who Cosgrove is, forced to ignore the troubling letters for the moment and turning for help with Mary Thomason to DC Munro of Scotland Yardís CID. Finally making contact with Striker, Dentonís joy is tempered by the news of suspicious activity in the empty building behind his residence. Increasingly he has a sense of being watched, an unease that follows the intrepid protagonist throughout the novel - and with good reason.
Denton is a sophisticated, urbane character in his fifties, his reluctant lady love engaged with the Society for the Improvement of Wayward Women, determined to maintain her independence in spite of her affection for the enthusiastic Denton. As in The Frightened Man, Cameronís novel is nuanced, one plot layered inside another, characters not easily defined and villains lurking in unexpected places. That is the charm of this novel - and a protagonist who draws trouble like a magnet.
His relationships are complicated, as with the independent Janet Striker and the stubbornly loyal Harold Atkins. When the elusive Mary Thomason seems to have disappeared, Denton is drawn into a chase that uncovers a past rife with duplicity and danger, from a disgraced soldier to a Bohemian artist to the raging Cosgrove, who has murder on his mind. Even Munro is stymied, but where the plucky, middle-aged Denton goes, trouble follows, a stranger stalking, invading Dentonís privacy and vandalizing Strikerís residence. This dense novel is pure turn-of-the-century London, Denton the thinking manís hero: idealistic, flawed, haunted by the past, bedeviled by violenceÖ and deeply in love.