Annalisa Passarelli, the Evening Bulletin's music critic, narrates the tale with a mix of first-person intimacy and cool omniscience. She's secretly helping the chief of detectives, Byron Fallon, gather dirt on a corrupt political syndicate headed by Adam Rolf, cit attorney and power broker. Rolf (a fictional character) owns the "puppet-mayor," Eugene Schmitz (an actual person), and is supported by an army of goons and waterfront toughs led by the infamous Shanghai Kelly, who, as Dalessandro notes in his afterword, was actually dead by 1906. Byron aims to arrest the mayor, the police chief and the city attorney in one fell swoop, but when he is killed investigating a murder at the waterfront, it's up to his son Hunter, a Stanford graduate and fledgling police detective, to carry his mantle. Annalisa and Hunter appeal to an association of honest cops known as the Brotherhood (co-led by Hunter's brother, Christian), who are dedicated to destroying Rolf's machine, although Hunter also has personal vengeance on his mind. They secure incriminating evidence, but before justice can be served, the earthquake strikes, plunging the city into chaos.