It is 1896 in Chicago - which means it has been three years since Inspector Alastair Ransom beat the charge of murder of a cleric, but his enemies have been working behind the scenes to hang him for the very same crime.
Such a thing may appear impossible given double-jeopardy laws, but the Chicago Archdiocese and other powerful groups want Ransom's head. The book opens with this battle being waged by Ransom from behind bars. However, he is soon badly needed on a case involving mutilated torsos - that is, headless and limbless bodies that have been brutally ripped apart.
With the help of the trusted people around him - Jane Tewes, her daughter, Gabby, Dr. Christian Fenger, Philo Keane, and Henry Bosch - Ransom begins to put the pieces together. Pieces that include a mutilated tattoo, the nature of the rips and tears to the flesh, and strange activity at the Chicago shipyards, the local taverns, the race track, and the streets of Chicago in 1896.
All this during a time when Inspector Alastair Ransom is getting closer to understanding what truly happened at the Haymarket riot which maimed Ransom, years ago. After receiving the head of a childhood friend delivered in a box, Ransom learns that Tony is connected to both the old crime and today's crimes.
Tony is now a friend who is among the series of victims to the butcher - or butchers - leaving torsos about the city. At the same time, Alastair is falling even more deeply in love with Dr. Jane Tewes and her daughter, Gabby, with whom he now closely works, as Gabby Tewes had become Fenger's assistant in the morgue. The final unmasking of the pure evil at work in the city comes clear when Ransom pulls back the layers and follows the paths that lead to justice.
Hypnosis and old-fashioned police work begin to focus Ransom's search for answers to both the crime in Chicago history and the current series of brutal murders terrifying all of Chicago.