As Word War II drags on, failed Shakespearian actor and would-be private detective William Power Returns to Melbourne in disgrace after his disastrous brush with theatre and murder in Maryborough. Bloodied, broken but somehow unbowed, he arrives in a town struggling under war rationing and resentful of cocky American soldiers, and lands squarely in the bosom of his childhood home in Carlton - a home now dominated by his sister-in-law, the odious Darlene.
But even Will's contempt is tempered when, in the early hours of the morning Darlene is kidnapped, and Will finds his mother's kitchen splattered with blood and scattered with broken crockery.
Needing to escape the maternal home and the growing police investigation, Power rents a room in the spacious, Parkville home of wealthy, charismatic, and obsessively neat Paul Clutterbuck and is introduced to an underworld of bohemians, black marketeers and neanderthal henchmen. Will Power is fascinated - but before he can begin to enjoy his new home, a savage murder is discovered.
Just when modesty and good sense threaten to intervene, Will realises that only he can solve the murder, the mystery of his kidnapped sister-in-law, and save the nation from impending catastrophe.