Murder strikes at the heart of the University when Dr Felix McClure, a retired college don, is found stabbed to death.
Morse and Lewis suspect Ted Brooks, McClure's old 'scout' (or college servant), who left his job abruptly after one of McClure's pupils committed suicide. Morse discovers that McClure, the suicidal undergraduate, and his room-mate, Ashley Davies, were all in love with the same woman - who was Brooks's daughter.
Morse and Lewis add to their list of suspects when they question the unusually close relationship between Ted Brooks's wife Brenda and the woman she cleans house for, a schoolteacher called Julia Stevens. Julia seems to be protecting Brenda from her husband's abusive behavior - but when Ted is found dead, it seems she may be hiding another kind of secret.
A nasty but very rich business man and a world-famous opera singer are in Oxford to receive honorary degrees from the Chancellor of the University. However, the ceremony has to be abandoned when a sniper opens fire on the procession of dignitaries. The singer is seriously wounded, but was she the intended target?
Morse investigates the reported theft of erotic paintings belonging to Sir Julius Hanbury, a local baronet who is one of those standing for election as the new Master of Courtney College, Oxford. As well as the pictures, Sir Julius himself has also disappeared. Morse finds Sir Julius's dead body, and at first it looks like murder, but the new police pathologist, Dr Grayling Russell, believes he killed himself. Then there is another death which is undoubtedly a murder - but how is it connected with the late Sir Julius Hanbury?