Possibly Zhong Fong is the only person in all of China who can completely decipher Lily's English, and he hasn't heard from her -- or anyone else -- in fifty-four months. His own English is excellent, but it has been that long since he had a use for it - fifty-four months since Shanghai Head of Special Investigations Zhong had been reduced to convicted political felon Zhong and exiled to the remote and barren north country, far from the crowded bustling world he knew.
Warned by Lily's telegram about "real sucking tons," Zhong doesn't know what to expect and expects the worst. It materializes in the persons of two men whom the former policeman recognizes as a politico and his thug of a bodyguard. He recognizes, too, that they are taking out on him in small but cruel ways their anger that circumstances force them to call upon this "criminal" for assistance. But there has been a mass murder, the victims all influential foreigners. The killings took place on a pleasure boat on Lake Ching, almost within sight of Zhong's hut. It's an area where only Zhong is an investigator with experience, more, with a record of successful cases and that makes him the only one available who can possibly protect China's rulers from something far worse than worldwide embarrassment. Much as they dislike pulling him in on it, they must.
The corollary to that "honor," of course, is that he'd damn well better come up with a solution that gets the government off the hook and allows the completion of the mysterious mission that originally brought the foreigners to remote Lake Ching - or else.
The good news is that he will be back in the living world, and will have Lily, a brilliant student of forensics, and another old crony from Shanghai, whom age and service has made wise in the ways of criminals, as his staff. The bad news is that Zhong is given a limited time to learn what has happened, who is responsible and how to capture them - and that the truth had better not be one that reflects on the Chinese government.
It's a set up that will have readers breathlessly following Zhong and his friends as they frantically trace the methodical killers who drenched the decks and cabins of the lake steamer with blood. It's a search that takes them back north, and to a dark island in the hills over the lake to search out the tribe of hostile near-savages there and learn the startling secret that they carry in their bodies.