It's summer in New York, 1972, and the city is steaming. Actress Martine Adair can't stand it any longer. She sends her lover off to pawn the diamond ring he gave her, so they can spend the next month cooling off at the beach. Her lover is private detective Dan Fortune, who works the worn high rises and dangerous alleys of the edgy Chelsea district.
At the neighborhood pawnshop, Fortune not only picks up cash, he meets Claude Marais and his wife, Li Marais. Claude is a retired soldier who fought on the losing side during France's humiliating defeats at Dien Bien Phu and Algiers. Convinced someone is trying to kill him, Li asks Fortune to stand guard outside their hotel room that night. Fortune agrees - the money will be enough to redeem Marty's ring and still take her to the beach.
In the morning Claude is fine, but his brother - Fortune's friend, the gentle pawnbroker - is dead, his skull bashed in. The police think it's a robbery gone bad, but Fortune disagrees - why would a robber leave $300 untouched in the cash drawer, and besides, how could the thief have gotten into the highly secure shop, unless the pawnbroker himself let him in? It had to be an inside job, yet the pawnbroker apparently had no enemies, no dark secrets.
Foreign adventurers, vicious gang members, an exotic beauty from Thailand, and an alcoholic Chinese populate this riveting tale, leading Fortune to a hair-raising ending and revelations of a tortured past no one wanted to remember but just wouldn't die.