Five years after the battle of Waterloo, Sharpe's peaceful retirement in Normandy is shattered by a plea for help. An old friend, Don Blas Vivar, is missing in Chile, reported dead at rebel hands - a report his wife refuses to believe. She appeals to Sharpe to find out the truth.
So it is that the reluctant Sharpe and his constant companion in adventure, Patrick Harper, find themselves bound for Chile via St Helena, where they have a fateful meeting with the fallen Emperor Napoleon.
Sharpe and Harper are convinced that they are on their way to collect a corpse; neither can imagine the dangers that await them in Chile.