Working-class espionage-agent Harry Palmer returns in this spy thriller. The story begins in London after a murder occurs during a demonstration at the North Korean embassy. Palmer, who was supposed to ensure nothing happened, fears repercussions from his higher-ups. They tell him that since the Cold War has ended, he and the senior spies have become redundant and are therefore placed on accelerated retirement. He then receives a mysterious phone call from a person wanting to meet him. They make an arrangement and the rendezvous occurs beside a river. There Palmer is given a plane ticket to St. Petersburg and an envelope stuffed with American $100 bills. He decides to go and, after a chase, ends up with Alexei, a recently released KGB spy. Unlike Palmer, Alexei received generous compensation for his years of devoted service. Palmer's new boss assigns him to find a stolen vial of a virulent, fatal virus, The Red Death, that has been sent to the North Korean embassy in Beijing. All he knows for sure is that the virus is aboard the Trans- Siberian Express. Palmer is assisted by Nikolai, Natasha and an ex-CIA agent. Along the way, the spies double and triple cross each other.