Shady New Orleans nightclub owner Wesley Farrell is an ex- janitor, ex-handyman, ex-boxer, and ex-Negro. At least that's how he thinks of himself, since he's been passing for white ever since he broke with his hated great-aunt, changed his name, and struck out on his own. But now Farrell's past is catching up with him. Willie Mae Gautier, that dragonish great-aunt, has turned up after ten years of silence demanding that he find out what kind of trouble her quadroon grandson, Marcel Aristide, has landed himself in. And suave, menacing gangster Emile Ganns offers Farrell a choice between earning $10,000 to solve the murder of Ganns's bagman, Det. Sgt. Chance Tartaglia, or hearing Ganns expose Farrell's carefully kept secret to the world--not a good career move in 1936. The two cases take forever to grow together, with nothing to watch but a packet of hot diamonds and some bang- bang-see-you-in-hell scenes while you wait. But once first- novelist Skinner starts to braid Tartaglia's family history (the unexpected return of his long-estranged wife and daughter) together with Farrell's own (he'll come face to face not only with Marcel, a no-account thief who doesn't know they're related, but with the father he never knew), the joint really does start to jump. It's Farrell's own explosive situation, in fact, that rescues this procession of insubstantial tough guys and tougher janes who'd otherwise flicker into momentary life and be gone in a puff of smoke.