Rutledge is called to the scene of what appears to be a man run down by a motorcar. But the evidence points to murder. Who is the victim? And where was he killed? One small clue leads the Inspector to a firm built by two families, famous for producing and selling the best Madeira wine in the world. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise is missing--but is he the dead man?
As Rutledge meets the clerk who runs the London office and the missing man's sister who is awaiting the arrival of Matthew Trayner, the other partner, a cousin who heads the Madeira office, he also finds two women--one jilted by the missing man and the other presently engaged to him. But where there is suspicion and circumstantial evidence, there is no proof of guilt.
Even when an arrest is made, Rutledge is unsatisfied, finding a link to an incident in the family's past that the new Acting Chief Superintendent feels is not relevant but he believes is vital to the inquiry. In fact, the ACS wants to blame one of the women, and as he goes on a witch hunt, there is even the possibility that a feud between the partners has led to murder. As Rutledge continues to search for proof of guilt, he finds that he's too close to the truth and that someone has decided that he must die so that justice can take its course.