Berkowitz has a flair for the noir that has become popular the last few years, his ex-cop P.I. Jackson Steeg stumbling through life with an eye to making up for past deeds and a tough Hell’s Kitchen background. But Steeg looks like a choirboy in comparison to his brother, Dave. A conscienceless mobster, Dave is initiating his son, Anthony, into the business, a fact that Jackson finds deeply disturbing. But blood is blood, so when Dave asks his brother for help with a possible arson indictment, Jackson is reminded of that link.
Unfortunately, the arson in Dave’s warehouse claimed three homeless people, and a number of others are found later in the debris. Someone has been using the warehouse to store dead bodies, and Steeg thinks he may have a serial killer on his hands. The DA’s office isn’t particular about which lowlife they arrest and are happy to keep Dave as the most likely suspect.
Moving between the criminal element in the streets, his old contacts on the force, and the underworld where Dave rules with impunity, Steeg finds himself with too many crimes, too many dead bodies, and too many dilemmas. Berkowitz embraces noir like a second language, comfortable in the skin of his sometimes cynical protagonist, who learns something even more heinous at each level of his investigation: “Grief tends to strip the gears of life.”
There’s the matter of the dead bodies in the warehouse and the violent method of their demise, an ex-hooker gone legitimate with a new angle on running a con that looks respectable, Anthony’s new career as a mob hood, and Jackson’s attempt to balance some kind of normal life with the ugly underbelly where Dave feels most comfortable.
In any case, by the time everyone is gathered at the Sinners' Ball, Steeg is forced to admit the futility of his endeavors, blood or not, especially in light of Dave’s irredeemable career. From Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem, this is no easy tale, one sad story leading to another. By the end, when Jackson declares, “I was tired of dancing at the Sinner’s Ball,” so am I.