A sunburned Det. Supt Andy Dalziel returns from his holiday in Australia and finds himself immediately investigating a murder. The dead man is Declan Roach, a researcher at the local university who was found in a university laboratory clean room. The autopsy confirms that he died from nitrogen intoxication but it is not clear at first if it was accidental or not. Roach was working under the direction of Professor Fran Cunningham, who in turn has a major contract with Aphrodite, a major cosmetics firm. She is working on a formula for a rejuvenation cream that will be nothing less than a fountain of youth and there is obviously a great deal of money at stake. Andy meanwhile is thinking of packing it in and emigrating to Australia.