A boy in London's Limehouse witnesses a crime and is caught out, but that proves to be the least of his troubles.
Twelve-year-old Malcolm Roberts grows up quickly in London's East End during the 1920s. Left largely to his own devices while his shell-shocked father succumbs to his demons, Malcolm makes a number of discoveries on the streets, creating enemies who want him dead.
A Thames waterman befriends the boy but ends up with his throat slit. The man’s niece, Katja Hasani, hunts down Malcolm, wanting help to find the murderer. She awakens other interests, but when he discovers her undesirable associates, she loses credibility. Katja, however, proves tenacious.
As Malcolm’s father gets committed to an asylum, the lad moves in with his aunt, an eccentric woman fascinated with underground organizations and excess. Retired divas and neurotic officers fill her flat with mirth and mystery; and Malcolm observes how effective revelry can be in loosening diplomatic lips. The waterman’s murder is one of many and is tied to a conspiracy against Anglo-Sino relations and a tenuous post-war peace.
“Chinamen" in Limehouse, a home full of bohemians and The Battle of Cable Street challenge Malcolm’s ingenuity. All of that pales when Malcolm discovers the person behind the threat to Britain’s foreign relations. Can a boy his age bear the weight of such responsibility?