Detective Virgil Tibbs, now a lieutenant with the San Francisco police, is assigned to investigate the murder of a prostitute. A prime suspect is Reverend Logan Sharpe, a liberal street preacher who is leading one of the sides in a city referendum on an urban renewal project. He tells Tibbs he was visiting the prostitute in his professional capacity, to advise her spiritually, and that when he left her apartment she was alive and healthy.
Tibbs tracks down and questions the janitor from the victim's building, Mealie Williamson, and Woody Garfield, a shady character who owns the building and might have been the dead woman's pimp, who sent the janitor into hiding. Later, suspicion falls on a hood named Rice Weedon, who is pursued and shot by Tibbs in self-defense.
Tibbs’ ongoing investigation leads him to conclude that Sharpe really is the murderer. When confronted, Sharpe confesses; however he requests that Tibbs not arrest him for 24 hours, until the polls close on the city referendum. When Tibbs refuses, Sharpe, while being taken away to be arrested, purposefully steps in front of a moving vehicle and is killed.
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