Mao-lin, China, October, 1921. China is in chaos. Warlords have carved the country into warring fiefdoms. Treachery and slippery loyalties are everywhere. Jake Greenberg, a wounded veteran of WWI, and his Chinese partner, Chen, have just run a boat full of weapons up the Yangtze to Mao-lin. The port city is the capital of a progressive warlord, who is expecting an attack at any minute by a cruel and very powerful enemy.
Jake has had enough of war and wants to get out before the shooting starts. Not easy to do. Just as they arrived, Mao-lin was shaken by the brutal murder of a famous American missionary and his wife. As trusted outsider, the warlord needs Jake to investigate the double murder. What he finds is not a simple robbery gone wrong, but what seems to be a politically inspired assassination.
Digging below the surface, Jake finds that the warlord is sick and near death, which has sparked a secret battle for control of the city. Worse, a traitor, possibly the killer, is loose among the warlord's inner circle. To save what could be a model city of China, Jake must unravel the conspiracy and find the murderer as enemy airplanes begin bombing the city.