Guido Brunetti and his wife, Paola, are on their way to a dinner party at Palazzo Falier, home of Paola's parents, the rich and powerful Conte and Contessa Falier, While Paola stops to examine a bookstore window, Brunetti's eye is caught by a couple ahead of them in the nearly deserted streets; a woman in an impossibly expensive fur coat on the arm of a much older man.
He is intrigued when they turn out to be fellow dinner guests, and even more so when he sees the woman's face, which has been disfigured by excessive plastic surgery. She is Franca Marinello, La Superliftata, whom he's heard of but never met." "This intelligent, mysterious woman entrances Brunetti. When she visits him later at the Questura and asks a favor, he is troubled. Her request seems to land near his investigation into a suspicious death that looks like murder, and the illegal hauling of garbage. In Italy, the environment has reached a crisis. Incinerators across the south are at full capacity, burning who-knows-what, the polluted waters of Venice's canals sit in the shadow of a major chemical complex, and in Naples, enormous piles of garbage grow in the streets."
As Brunetti delves into this shadowy, toxic world, he comes face to face with violence as dangerous as he's ever seen, and corruption that touches on his influential father-in-law, as well as the fascinating Franca Marinello.