With an inquiry into the death of one of his officers hanging over his head back in Yorkshire and his career in limbo, DCI Michael Thackeray sets off for his alma mater, Oxford College, for a summer course, all the while brooding on his newly uncertain future. Before long, a former tutor has persuaded him to investigate the disappearance of a senior don. Why has Dr. Mark Harrison abandoned his wife, his family, and his students so abruptly? And why has no one heard from him or his girlfriend since the day they left St. Frideswide's? The college needs some answers urgently.
Back on their home turf, Thackeray's girlfriend, reporter Laura Ackroyd, watches and waits--and does some of her own investigating--as the ripples caused by the young policewoman's death throw young sergeant Kevin Mower into turmoil and an ambitious officer pursues Thackeray's job.
As Laura Ackroyd battles on the home front, Thackeray is tormented by unhappy memories of his own time at Oxford. Are the missing professor and his girlfriend alive or dead? How many more horrors, so effortlessly covered up over the years, will come back to haunt St. Frideswide's, as well as Thackeray himself? The answers to these questions may be more than he bargained for, and the distance between the privileged world of college cloisters and the violence outside its ivy-covered walls may turn out to be just an illusion.