Private investigator Alex Rasmussen has loved carnivals since he was a boy, and what better way to enjoy one as a grown man than with a lovely woman at his side? As he and his date stroll along the midway, playing games of chance, the soft September night is torn by a scream. Rasmussen rushes to a nearby field to find a woman's body in the weeds.
One of the carnival workers---a man with trouble in his past and a motive for murder---is arrested and charged with the crime. The lawyer hired to defend him retains Rasmussen to investigate. The police are convinced they have a clear-cut case, but as Alex probes, he finds a trail as bewildering as a funhouse mirror maze.
An outsider to the close-knit "carnies," and shunned by the police department he once served, Rasmussen faces a client who refuses to talk, gangsters looking to exploit the carnival's troubles, a mob of citizens bent on rough justice, and an elusive killer who seems to anticipate Alex's every move.
When the investigation points to crooked cops, the defending lawyer abandons the case. Wisdom says Rasmussen should do likewise, but staying on has become a matter of honor. As a woman tells him, "We all end up in the graveyard, flying the marble kite." The only question now is: When?
In the old city of Lowell (once the textile capital of America, now a husk of run-down mills), the streets have never been meaner. Beyond the flickering lights and the bright surfaces lies a shadow world where betrayal, deception, and violent death await.