A literary mystery told in two braided narratives, opens with the unexplained explosion of Albert Snaedeker, a psychiatrist, on the operating table during routine surgery. His cousin, a magazine publisher, assigns reporter and sometime novelist, Owen Berk, to investigate.
Berk not only pursues the whodunnit, howdunnit questions but, intrigued by the bizarre death and the people surrounding it, turns them into characters in a new novel. In it, Snaedeker's surgeon's depressed wife has an imagined flowering when she is indoctrinated into the world of S/M. We read Berk's novel in alternating chapters with the framing novel until they converge and Berk falls in love with the now-divorced wife of the surgeon, wondering how much of his passion is for her, how much for the fantasy figure he has turned her into.