September 1592 -- and the redoubtable Sergeant Dodd is still in London with that dashing courtier Sir Robert Carey, dealing with the fall-out from their earlier adventures. Carey urgently needs to get back to Carlisle where he is the Deputy Warden and the raiding season is about to begin. However, there are complications in the way. His powerful father, Henry, Lord Hunsdon, son of the other Boleyn girl, Mary and her paramour young Henry VIII, wants him to solve the mystery of a badly decomposed corpse from the Thames that has washed up on Her Majesty's Privy Steps.
Meanwhile, although he hates London, Sergeant Dodd has decided that he will not go north until he has taken a suitable revenge for his mistreatment by the Queen's Vice Chamberlain, Thomas Heneage. Carey's father wants him to sue -- but none of the lawyers in London will take the brief against such a dangerous courtier. Then a mysterious young lawyer with a pock-marked face offers to help Dodd, with suspicious eagerness. Nobody knows who that balding young would-be poet and lover William Shakespeare might be working for, if he knows himself. And then, just as Carey is resigning himself to the delay, the one person he really does not want to see again arrives in London to stir everything up.
With the River Thames for a freeway and the dark streets of London full of people up to no good, Sergeant Dodd has to help Carey find the identity of the corpse and who murdered him, while bringing a little taste of the Borders to his dealings with Heneage.