It's September 1592, and the redoubtable Sergeant Dodd is still in London with 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; the raiding season is about to begin. However, there are complications. 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 that has washed up from the Thames 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 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 eagerly offers to help Dodd. Nobody knows who that balding young would-be poet and lover William Shakespeare might be working for. 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 up everything.