In the beginning was the word ...
A man drowns. Another dies in a motorbike crash. Two accidents ... yet in a pair of so-called Dialogues sent to the Mid-Yorkshire Gazette as entries in a short story competition, someone seems to be claiming responsibility for the deaths.
In Mid-Yorkshire CID the word is heard but not believed. Even Hat Bowler, the young DC who first gets hold of the story, only pretends to take it seriously in order to get closer to the girl of his dreams, librarian Raina Pomona. But when the story is leaked to television and a third indisputable murder takes place, Dalziel and Pascoe find themselves playing a game no-one knows the rules of, against an opponent known only as the Wordman.
Gradually the hunt focuses on three main suspects. Still Dialogue follows Dialogue and funeral follows funeral, until finally Hat Bowler, who is at odds with his girlfriend over the direction of the police investigation, begins to fear that she may be about to find out he's right in the worst possible way.