Somebody has it in for Richard Banks. All he wants to do is help people understand Mad Cow Disease. Publicity as a "TV Scientist" is welcome, both to him and to the university, where he studies the spread of diseases. When he starts to ask more embarrassing questions, however, someone passes his name to MI5 as an animal liberation activist. A man known as Joe starts to shadow him.
Richard suffers harrassment, break-ins, assault, and then he's arrested. His research funds are withdrawn and his lectures cancelled. He's a resilient character, but his life isn't his own any more, and his lover Alison despairs of being able to help. An encounter with a gang which is extorting money from beef farmers makes the threats more immediate, more physical.
A tip-off gives Richard the opportunity to hit back. The explanation for BSE could be within his reach, but getting it will involve breaking and entering, computer hacking and more guts than he thinks he has. In fact, all he needs is one more push. It comes from Joe, who hopes Richard will run to his fellow conspirators, but there is nobody else.
He still runs, and after sightings across Northern England, Joe's men track Richard down to his Welsh bolt-hole. The stolen information is dynamite, but one man in government wants it published. He has been playing the two of them like puppets, and now calls Joe off so that Richard can meet him in London. He is a sick man and, after spelling out the part Richard is to play in the plan, he shoots himself.
Thrown together by the suicide, and resenting the way they have been used, Richard and Joe resolve to make sense of the whole mess by breaking the extortion gang. Richard is to be the bait but, after all he has been through, who can he trust?