Morse’s stepmother, Gwen, arrived unannounced to stay with him. She has sold her house and needs accommodation until she can move into her new home; Morse can sleep on his couch for a week.
It’s a weird moment, considering a taxi driver named Dudley Lunn was just shot and killed in his car, and Morse’s dad was also a taxi driver. Like Lunn, Morse’s father enjoyed playing the game; they also both left their first wife and child after getting another woman pregnant. Morse has never forgiven her father or Gwen and, needless to say, she doesn’t get along very well with him either.
Lunn’s murder appears to have been a robbery: his wallet was emptied. Another driver was recently whipped and then robbed, so other taxi drivers are nervous. Lunn’s death was unusual, however, in that he was shot around 10:00 p.m., but his watch was broken and stopped at 6:50 a.m. It was far from town – the only thing nearby is the Paradise Court nudist retreat.
A young couple, the Applebys, have just arrived at Paradise Court in a taxi, but Lunn was not their driver. They believe they heard a gunshot the previous night, but assumed it was a backfire from a car.
Lunn was killed by a small caliber firearm, believed to fit in a purse. He had a lipstick stain on his collar, but was a noted womanizer. His wallet contained a card for the Ostrich Fancy Club, but Morse finds no evidence of the existence of such a club.
While examining the crime scene, Morse finds part of a metal canister, but is interrupted in his inspection by Lunn’s young son, who points a gun at him. The son waits there to avenge his father, in case the killer returns, but Morse confiscates the gun and brings him home. The son blames himself for his parents’ divorce, he has bad grades. Morse understands the sentiment but assures her it’s not her fault.
Before Morse’s stepmother finally leaves her house without a trace except a note with her new address, he and she continually argue. You can’t blame me for your mother’s cancer all your life, Gwen said at one point. We welcomed you!
Morse isn’t in the best emotional state right now, as evidenced by a drunken visit to Joan’s apartment late Thursday night. She’s not there: she and Strange attend a charity ball together in his Masonic lodge. The not quite a date goes well: Strange and Joan are dancing, and she kisses him on the cheek as thanks for a great night out. They also planned another outing, having won tickets to the ball for a concert in London.
Morse’s night doesn’t end so well. He is cut off by a cab as he stumbles drunkenly through the streets, but luckily the driver, Clarry Haynes, kindly helps Morse and drops him home.
Morse returns the favor by pocketing a business card from the back of Haynes’ cab: an IOU from Lunn. The next day, Haynes insists that Lunn paid him back. He also admits that he was the driver who took the Applebys to Paradise Court; he didn’t say it sooner because his wife was sick and he didn’t want to get involved in police business.
The Applebys have their own secrets. Baz, the husband, disappears overnight, telling his wife that he revisited an old pub from his undergrad days and passed out on the lawn after a night of drinking.
The night reserves a worse fate for Father Mahoney: he is found murdered in a confessional of his church. Like Lunn, he was shot by a small-caliber firearm and his wallet emptied. Once again, a timepiece is broken at a different time than death. A cigarette case engraved with the same insignia as the Lunn’s Ostrich Fancy Club card sits on the priest. A key from his pocket watch opens a cupboard which contains a bag with a mason’s apron and film cartridges. The part of a Morse cartridge found at the Lunn murder scene matches these containers.
Father Mahoney’s half-brother would come around every once in a while and ask for money. A window cleaner remembers hearing an argument and noticing a trilby with orange feathers on the priest’s desk.
Father Mahoney’s bedroom movies are pornography. Dudley Lunn is one of the performers. Journalist Dorothea Frazil connects the priest, Lunn, and the movies in another way: she found a classified ad for the Ostrich Fancy Club, which claims to be about birds but is actually a porn service. She also says that the priest had lost his faith.
Then a third man finds himself dead, with all the telltale signs: small caliber pistol, broken watch different from the time of death. He is master of Strange’s Masonic lodge – the Masonic apron in Mahoney’s room was probably bound. Morse recognizes a room in the man’s house as the scene of one of the porn movies.
The Master’s wife was on a trip, but an anonymous informant called for the murder. Morse recognizes indentations in the lawn and realizes that the tip came from the window cleaner who was at the church at the time of the priest’s death.
Morse is then diverted from the investigation to take a statement from a woman who ended up in hospital after being beaten by her husband. She does not want to press charges and admits that her husband, the gardener at Paradise Court, discovered that she was having an affair with Dudley Lunn. When Morse arrives at the retreat to speak to the gardener, however, he has hanged himself. His stash of nude guest photos burns in a fire, but photos of him with a young Baz Appleby are safe.
Baz admits to having a youthful affair with the gardener years ago. When he arrived at Paradise Court he met the gardener to tell him the matter was over but they were near where Dudley was shot so had to cut off their conversation when they heard the gunshot. They took it back the following evening—hence Baz’s absence—when Baz left the disgruntled gardener with no illusions about their relationship. So suicide.
Meanwhile, Thursday investigates the London sex shop linked to the Ostrich Fancy Club and is interrupted by another police officer assigned to patrol the area. Recognizing his trilby with an orange feather, Thursday realizes the cop is impersonating Father Mahoney’s half-brother and blackmailing him, after discovering his side business producing pornography.
While informing Superintendent Bright of the investigation, Morse notices a book of Bright’s paintings – the Superintendent has taken a live model course – and recognizes the model in them as the window cleaner’s girlfriend. She is also the opposite interpreter of Dudley Lunn in pornographic films.
Morse realizes that the hours on the broken clocks at the murder scenes are a semaphore system, signaling “CYW”. It means “chick”, an endearing term, in Welsh, and Morse remembers that the taxi dispatcher, Ifan Roberts, is Welsh and had an old photo of a young girl in his office whom everyone called “Birdie”. Roberts is the model’s father, although she was raised by her mother.
Roberts ordered a film from the Ostrich Fancy Club and was horrified to recognize his daughter in it. Vowing revenge, he sent Lunn, whom he also recognized, to do false work in the desert near Paradise Court, where he killed him. But not before he insisted Lunn tell him who else was involved in the movies – which is how he was led to the other two victims.
The sordid affair makes Morse even more cynical about the world, despite Thursday’s argument for a more optimistic outlook.