Alvin Ames runs the vice rackets in the blue collar town of Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from larger, more affluent Portland. Oregon. As is the case with others in his line of work, Ames routinely pays police and politicians to turn a blind eye to his business while insisting that they otherwise maintain public order. People want to feel safe if they are to kick up their heels in the town’s nightclubs, card rooms and brothels. Lately, however, the police seem to have grown indifferent to public safety, even shrugging off crimes as egregious as armed robbery and murder. Citizens are anxious. Business is suffering. When Ames’ winsome teen-aged acquaintance Dora Schilling is raped and murdered and the police, after a perfunctory investigation, arrest a plainly innocent man, it’s the last straw. Ames ousts the incumbent chief of police and installs himself in the job.
With no practical law enforcement experience, Ames’ everyday difficulties escalate when he identifies the son of Portland waterfront boss Nolan Hedgepeth as a prime suspect in the Schilling case. Hedgepeth makes plain that no hick cop will touch his son. He also makes plain an intention to extend his Portland-based dope business across the river into Ames’ territory. Ames, whose wife died of a narcotics overdose, has fended off every attempt to deal drugs on his turf. He’s not about to make an exception for Nolan Hedgepeth. But is Ames’ knockabout band of longshoremen, nightclub bouncers and raw rookie cops any match for Hedgepeth’s gun-toting thugs? And given the demands of the larger battle, can Ames hope to run Dora Schilling’s killer to earth? Those who know the man are of one mind: whatever the opposition, Alvin Ames will succeed on both counts—or die trying.