Lew Harper is a Los Angeles based private investigator whose marriage to Susan Harper, who he still loves, is ending in imminent divorce since she can’t stand being second fiddle to his work, which is always taking him away at the most inopportune of times. His latest client is tough talking and physically disabled Elaine Sampson, who wants him to find her wealthy husband, Ralph Sampson, missing now for twenty-four hours, ever since he disappeared at Van Nuys Airport after having just arrived from Vegas. No one seems to like Ralph, Elaine included. She believes he is cavorting with some woman, which to her would be more a fact than a problem. Harper got the case on the recommendation of the Sampsons’ lawyer and Harper’s personal friend, milquetoast Albert Graves, who is unrequitedly in love with Sampson’s seductive daughter, Miranda Sampson. Miranda, who Harper later states throws herself at anything “pretty in pants”, also has a decidedly cold relationship with her stepmother, Elaine. As Harper begins his investigation, he is often joined by one or two new sidekicks, Miranda, and/or Allan Taggert, Sampson’s private pilot who was the last person to see him before his disappearance. Living on the Sampson estate, Allan is also Miranda’s casual boyfriend who Harper coins “Beauty” because of his preppy good looks. They discover that Sampson has indeed been kidnapped as they receive a ransom note. As Harper follows leads, he ends up in the underbelly of Los Angeles society, which includes encounters with Betty Fraley, a junkie lounge singer, Fay Estabrook, an ex-movie ingénue now overweight alcoholic, and Claude, a religious cult leader. At each of Harper’s stops, people seem to want to beat him up or worse kill him. The case takes a slight turn after they decide to pay the $500,000 ransom to see where it leads.
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