In San Francisco, homicide detective Nick Curran investigates the murder of retired rock star Johnny Boz, who has been stabbed to death with an ice pick during sex with a mysterious blonde woman. Nick’s only suspect is Boz’s bisexual girlfriend, crime novelist Catherine Tramell, who has written a novel that mirrors the crime. It is concluded that either Catherine is the murderer or someone is attempting to frame her. Catherine is uncooperative and taunting during the investigation, smoking and exposing herself during her interrogation. She has an alibi and passes a lie detector test. Nick discovers Catherine has a history of befriending murderers, including her girlfriend Roxy, who impulsively killed her two younger brothers when she was sixteen years of age, and Hazel Dobkins, who killed her husband and children for no apparent reason.
Nick, who accidentally shot two tourists while high on cocaine during an undercover assignment, attends counseling sessions with police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner, with whom he has an on-and-off affair. Nick discovers that Catherine is basing the protagonist of her latest book on him, wherein his character is murdered after falling for the wrong woman. Nick also learns that Catherine has bribed Lt. Marty Nielsen of Internal Affairs for information from Nick’s psychiatric file and that Beth had previously given it to Nielsen after he threatened to recommend Nick’s termination. Nick assaults Nielsen in his office, and later becomes a prime suspect when Nielsen is killed. Nick suspects Catherine, and when his behavior deteriorates, he is put on leave.
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