Phil D'Amato is a forensic detective for the New York Police Department. His job description seems to be a rather nebulous one. In this outing, he spends much of his time formulating theories. Several crimes are committed which seem similar in method; leading Phil to think the same individual may have committed them. He is also called out to work fresh crime scenes, seriously cutting into his thinking time.
In The Consciousness Plague, the heir apparent to the commissioner's job, Jack Dugan (who is D'Amato's boss) is under attack on two fronts. First he is fighting a nasty case of the flu, but what concerns him more is a series of deaths of young women, all by strangulation. In ruminating about these deaths, he reasons that New York has enough bizarre cases to merit the establishment of a task force devoted exclusively to them, and Phil D'Amato with his talent and interest in unusual crimes would be the perfect candidate to head the group.
It is several days before D'Amato replies to Dugan's request, during which time Dugan has, with the assistance of the antibiotic Omnin, recovered from the flu. When Phil tries to accept Dugan's offer to head the task force, Dugan acts as if he had never tendered the offer. Aware that several other people, including himself, have experienced memory lapses, Phil believes Omnin, which is known to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, is responsible for the memory loss.
D'Amato's mission becomes two-fold. He wants to find the person responsible for the rash of strangulations, seemingly unique enough to be the work of a serial killer. He also is convinced Omnin, in its present form, could create many disasters through critical memory disruption of a large number of people.