In 1962 Philadelphia, welterweight Eddie Cero has fought his last round, felled by a sly opponent, T-Bone Mieux. Bruised and battered, Eddie stops on his way home to save a man from a beating by two thugs, ex-cop Salvatore Giambroni. In Cero’s debt, Sal offers the kid a job in his detective agency, SG Investigations.
With the ring a thing of the past, Eddie gives Sal’s offer a shot, settling into an easy routine: morning coffee and the day’s assignment, surveillance for a client with a wayward daughter who sneaks off her high school campus to meet an older boyfriend. But Eddie is really interested in a cold case - the three-year-old disappearance of soul artist Johnny Pope, lead singer of The Excels, a group that hit the top of the charts and big money. Then Johnny is gone, disappeared, with no clue as to what happened.
To make the case even more seductive, Eddie is captivated by Johnny’s sister, Valerie Pope, who nightly croons her blue notes to the crowd of fans at The Blue Door. When he approaches Valerie asking questions about Pope’s disappearance, she wants no part of it and wastes no time making her feelings clear to Cero. Back at the office, Sal isn’t thrilled to learn of Eddie’s curiosity about Johnny Pope either but agrees to let him pursue the case when their other work is finished.
Learning that he isn’t half bad at this new job, Eddie throws himself into Johnny’s case, visiting a local club to ask questions where his is the only white face. There he makes contact with Ray Pope, Johnny’s cousin, and has another run in with T-Bone Mieux, who still has revenge on his mind in spite of being declared the winner of the boxing match. When Ray is found later in an alley, Cero suspects his investigation has opened up a subject many people want kept quiet. Eddie is certain he is on the right track, faced with suspects everywhere he turns.
As Eddie soon learns, the recording business is rife with edgy characters, especially a suspicious record producer with a history of gambling debts, a sleazy agent, and various others who had contact with Johnny in the final days before his disappearance. With the Payola scandal giving the industry a bad name, artists and producers strive to project a clean image while the stink of corruption leads to greed, jealousy and murder. Eddie may be in over his head, but he’s all heart, especially where Valerie is concerned.
Sal does his best to warn his new employee of the dangers ahead, but Cero is committed, dogged in spite of the escalating violence since he first began sleuthing. Agreeing to a rendezvous in the music studio at night with a witness, Cero is blindsided by his own eagerness and curiosity, facing a brutal confrontation at the hands of his nemesis. Not only does he survive, but Eddie learns the truth of that tragic night when Johnny Pope took his last breath, a shocking revelation that turns Eddie’s world upside-down.
Hopping place and time to 1960s Philly, Fulmer sets the stage for a new protagonist, music again a requisite background theme for an unfolding drama that reveals greed, ambition, and the racial attitudes of a divided city. With a new career and an eye to the future, Eddie Cero solves his first case, albeit with some troubling consequences, the future not quite as bleak as that last night on his face in the boxing ring.