It is Bicentenary year and Australia is having the party of its lifetime. Detective Inspector Scobie Malone, hero of three previous Cleary books and the most human of cops, would much rather be out on Sydney Harbor with his family, watching the fun. Instead he is on duty, investigating the murder of an aide to President Timori, who has just arrived unwanted in Australia following a coup in the Spice Islands republic of Palucca.
With Timori is his glamorous wife, Delvina, a lady as famous for her extravagance as for her lust for power. Clearly the bullet was meant for the president, and Malone has the task of tracking down the hit man before he takes a second shot.
Malone identifies the would-be assassin as Miguel Seville, an international terrorist now turned contract man, a hired killer who wants to retire and needs the money from this job to achieve his aim. Malone also suspects that Seville is in contact with a young Aboriginal rights activist. But who is paying Seville, and why?
Prime Minister Philip Norval, an ex-TV star who is lost without his advisors, turns out to be an old flame of Delvina's from the days when she was a dancer in Sydney. Business tycoon Russell Hickbed, though a reluctant host to the Timoris, has his own reasons for wanting President Timori protected. And interfering in the cast at every opportunity is Hans Vaderberg, premier of the state of New South Wales, political enemy of Prime Minister Norval, and master of every political trick ever devised.
In this gripping new novel, Jon Cleary has set an ominous cat-and-mouse game in a sophisticated city intent on celebrating. But carried on the wind at the edge of the city, fire, the summer scourge of Australia, is scorching the bush and destroying people's homes. Not all Australians will celebrate this two hundredth birthday and Malone knows it.