When the body of a French woman washes up on a wild inlet off the Cornish coast, Brian Macalvie, the divisional commander with the Devon-Cornwall police, is called in. Who could have killed this beautiful tourist when the only visible footprints nearby belong to the two little girls who found her?
While Macalvie stands stumped in the Scilly Islands, inspector Richard Jury — 20 miles away on Land’s End - is at the Old Success pub, sharing a drink with the legendary former CID detective Tom Brownell, a man renowned for solving every case he undertook — well, nearly every case. Bronwell discloses that there was one he once missed. In the days following the mysterious slaying of the Parisian tourist, two other murders are called in to Macalvie and Jury's teams: first, a man is found dead in his Devon estate, then a holy duster turns up murdered at the Exeter Cathedral in Northamptonshire.
When Macalvie and Jury decide to consult Bronwell, the retired detective tells them that the three murders, although very different in execution, are connected. As the trio sets out to solve this puzzle, Jury and Macalvie hope that this doesn’t turn out to be Brownell’s second-ever miss.