The garotted corpse of a notorious antiquities thief and forger is discovered in an excavation pit at an archeological site near Colchester, on England's east coast. Despite being on parental leave to care for his infant daughter, Deterive Inspector Michael "Mick" Chandra is put in charge of the case, his leave suspended by New Scotland Yard's commissioner.
The victim is identified as Stanislaw Janus, a once highly respected curator of pre-Roman British antiquities at London's Brititsh Museum. Years earlier, Janus turned to a life of crime by forging and fencing his forgeries on the international antiquities black market. Prior to his murder, Janus had engineered the theft of the priceless Ravenhoe Cauldron for the Colchester Museum. The nearly 2,000-year-old gold vessel had been unearthed by archeologists in the very pit where Janus' corpse was later dumped. Coincidence?
Mick and his partner, Sergeant Elizabeth Chang, enlist the help of the Yard's Arts and Antiquities Unit to investigate the case.
The story races like a runaway train, carried by a cast of colorful characters. Among them is Jessica Beaumont, Mick's great love, who was introduced in the first book in the series, A Death in C Minor, and is now his wife.
As Mick delves into the theft, he increasingly realizes that he and Elizabeth are being dogged by someone who is willing to kill, if necessary, to keep them from finding the cauldron.
And what is the meaning of the rusty key shoved through Mick's and Jess' mail slot with a note reading: "The key to the Ravenhoe Cauldron?"