Teenager Beatrice Donnelly is found disoriented and distressed in an Oxford field. She has no memory of what has happened, but forensic evidence proves she has been drugged and sexually assaulted. A well-known insomnia pill was used to drug her, and Lewis and Hathaway track the tablet to a likely suspect — Oswald Cooper, a computer teacher at Beatrice's school.
Yet, on the night of the murder, Cooper was hosting a dinner party for three of Oxford's elite — Danny Adebayou, a prominent developer, Gavin Matthews, a controversial talk radio host and Simon Ashton, a former diplomat. The story from all in attendance is the same, and the alibi couldn't be any more solid.
When Cooper is later found murdered and castrated, the obvious motive is revenge for the attack on Beatrice. But the police can't prove that Cooper was the original assailant and Lewis can't crack the wall of respectability that surrounds Cooper's alibi. Beatrice's enraged father, Keiran, looks like the obvious suspect for the murder, and his bloody clothes and own words seem to incriminate him.
When DNA evidence offers critical insight into the case, Lewis and Hathaway are still faced with unanswered questions: Why were Oxford's elite dining with someone outside their circle in the first place? And while Cooper's alibi may be perfect, why doesn't it seem convincing?
Lewis is drawn back to the trio of dinner guests and becomes intent on uncovering the truth. But as he gets closer to Oxford's most elite social circles, is Lewis's own social circumstance as an outsider clouding his judgment?
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Teenager Beatrice Donnelly is drugged, abducted, and raped on the banks of the Thames in Oxford. The prime suspect is her school's tech-support specialist Oswald Cooper, who has a prescription for the sedative found in Beatrice's blood and the skill to clone her father's cell phone to trick her into meeting him.
However, Cooper has an impressive alibi. At the time of the crime, he was hosting a dinner party for three illustrious friends, who all vouch for him. These are "the great and the good" of the program's title, alluding to the cream of British society — the type who are singled out for honors by the queen.
These men are Simon Ashton, the former British ambassador to Jordan; Nigerian entrepreneur Lord Adebayou; and Gavin Matthews, a military historian and radio host.
Getting to the nub of the case, Inspector Lewis asks Sergeant Hathaway, "Does it not strike you as odd that the resident nerd is throwing supper parties for diplomats and lords and the like?"
The mystery deepens when Cooper is found dead at his home the following day, garroted and castrated. All signs point to Beatrice's father, Kieran, as the killer, since he knew that Cooper was a suspect.
On the day of his death Cooper mailed a series of letters that will have an explosive effect. One is to Frank Sporetti, who has been stalking Adebayou since his father's suicide, caused by bad investment advice from Adebayou. Cooper spills the beans to Sporetti about Adebayou's fraudulent financial empire and hints at a dark secret concealed by Ashton.
But no sooner has Sporetti tried to extract blackmail based on this information than he, too, is garroted.
Another letter goes to Lewis, with a house key and the enigmatic message: "Never stop looking. Your house is not a home." The key eventually unlocks an abandoned building across from Cooper's flat, where Lewis discovers a sophisticated nerve center used by Cooper to transact a mammoth swindle on behalf of his illustrious friends. They become ex-friends when Cooper learns that privately they ridicule him as the "Eunuch."
The trouble started many years before, when Cooper saved Beatrice's mother, Magda, from drowning, earning the respect and friendship of Ashton, his neighbor — an acquaintance that led to other high-placed connections. Ashton and Cooper both fell in love with Magda. But it was Ashton who had an affair with her.
Much later, when Ashton returned from his ambassadorship, Magda's husband, Kieran, was out of work. She led Ashton to think that Beatrice was his love child in order to gain his support. Jealous, Cooper abducted and raped Beatrice at the very spot where he had rescued Magda from the river. But first he enlisted his unwitting friends to cover for him with the dinner party alibi.
When Ashton learned of the rape, he killed and castrated Cooper in revenge. Then, when Sporetti called Ashton to coerce money in return for silence about the supposed illegitimate daughter, Ashton garroted Sporetti.
The program ends with Lewis and Hathaway following up a hint in Cooper's letter that he had information about the hit-and-run death of Lewis's wife, which occurred some months earlier. But this is the one piece of the puzzle that does not fall into place. At least, not yet.