A clever magician tries to solve the case of a locked-room murder that only a talented escape artist could have committed.
Freelance scribe Ross Harte is working on an essay about the sad state of the modern mystery novel when a scream comes from the hallway: "There is death in that room!" Harte finds a trio of conjurers trying to get into the apartment of his neighbor, the mysterious Dr. Cesare Sabbat, famed occultist and, for the past few minutes, a corpse.
They break down the door to find Sabbat lying in a pentagram, face twisted from the agonies of strangulation, but with no bruises on his neck. All the doors were locked, and the windows drop straight down to the river below. Only an escape artist could get out of that room, and Sabbat knew quite a few. To make sense of this misdirected muddle, the police bring in the Great Merlini, an illusionist whose specialty is making mysteries disappear.