At the center of the intrigue are three intelligence officers: Edgar Davies, a near retirement British MI6 officer posted to Montevideo under non-official cover to coordinate the defection of a determined Anastas Molotov a KGB officer who had befriended him last year in Africa. And across town operating from his secure attic command post in the Italianate mansion that is the Soviet Embassy is the KGB Rezident, Colonel Oleg Nadiensky.
Davies and Nadiensky are seasoned operatives in the opaque clandestine world of espionage. But to the casual eye, and on the diplomatic cocktail circuit where the two are never seen together, the Britisher is not what he seems. He has close secret ties to the Rezident who recruited him years ago in Belgium as a double agent.
Nadiensky rules a disgruntled and unhappy team of intelligence officers with an iron fist but is considered an uncommonly successful spymaster by Moscow: he and Edgar Davies are back in harness together, the mayor of Montevideo is a Soviet illegal, and Molotov has managed to ingratiate himself with the stewards of the Platte River Yacht Club, an important members-only purveyor of sailing, gastronomy, sports, and social events, where he mingles with the city’s influential and politically connected crowd.
Davies, however, rather than continue to feed the Soviets British secrets announces he has become disenchanted with his life's work at MI6, and wants to defect to the Soviet Union. There, he tells the Rezident, away from the reach of British Intelligence and as a protege of the KGB, he envisages a new life with new, important friends in a vibrant, beautiful capital city he has never even visited.