Dorian Crane, Oxford University's newest chronicler of fantasy tales, is celebrating his latest novel with a book launch party. His muse and bride-to-be Alice Wishart and her proud father Dr. Jem Wishart are among the gathered fans. Coincidentally, Robbie Lewis is also in attendance, having been brought by his boss, a friend of Dorian's foster mother Ginny Harris.
The celebratory mood is shattered by a gruesome murder. The body of Czech barmaid Marina Hartner is found by the river. She has been savagely killed with an antique Persian mirror.
Among the shards of glass is a bloodstained note, with the single word "Uqbara," recognized by Hathaway as a place in Iraq. The mirror belonged to Hamid Jassim, an Oxford lecturer, who confirms that it was stolen from his office during Dorian's book party.
Salient details of Marina's personal life soon come to light. Marina had consensual sex on the night of her murder. On Marina's laptop, Hathaway finds a website to "Meet Czech Chicks," where "Ned from Oxford, England" vouches for Marina's beauty. Could Ned be the mysterious suitor and possible murderer and where is he now?
Facts blur with fantasy when Lewis finds sections from Dorian's book that seem to mirror the details of Marina's death. The young author denies any involvement in the death.
A death threat written in the same handwriting as the "Uqbara" note leads Lewis to a sudden and an entirely new theory on the case. What if the intended target for the riverside murder was still alive?
"If you're right, it's sick," concludes Hathaway. "It's Oxford," retorts Lewis.