Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur and his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles, worry about the safety of one of the big-time crooks on their ground, Ralph Ember, sometimes known as Panicking Ralph. Yes, Ralph is a villain, but he's a local villain, and Harpur and Iles feel a kind of bizarre affection for him. And in any case, Ralph helps Iles keep the city reasonably peaceful. But now some awkward repercussions from Ralph's lawless past seem to bring danger. Ralph is aware of this new peril and has installed a bulletproof steel barrier to protect himself in the club he owns - but will this be enough to keep him safe? Harpur thinks not. Surely the upcoming party at the club will provide the perfect moment for a gunman to do for Ralph? The only way Harpur can be sure of protecting Ralph is to attend the party himself.