It is 1964 and Ben Schroeder, first introduced in A Higher Duty, is building his career at the Bar; juggling the demands of different challenging cases, while trying to allow a little romance into his life.
Ben is already defending a vicar, accused of indecent assault on a choir boy, when he is plunged into a capital murder case. The accused is Billy Cottage, charged with murder after a frenzied attack on a young courting couple aboard a houseboat. The young man, Frank Gilliam, dies in the attack, while his girlfriend, Jennifer Doyce, is raped and seriously injured. The attacker steals a gold cross and chain from Jennifer, which makes the crime a capital offence.
When the police recover the cross and chain from Billy's sister, and find his fingerprint inside the houseboat, things start to look ominous. But then comes the crucial piece of evidence of his propensity to sing a particular song. To make matters worse, Ben is being led by Martin Hardcastle, an arrogant QC with a serious drinking problem.
In his fight to save Billy Cottage's life, Ben finds that he has both the law and the facts against him; and the tide of public opinion has not yet turned against capital punishment.