It is March 1920 and May Keaps, the Poplar Coroner's Officer, has never failed to provide a jury with sufficient evidence to arrive at a just verdict. And the poverty, drunken fights between visiting sailors, drug trafficking, and criminal gangs haunting the shadows of the busiest docks in the world mean that the courtroom sees more than its fair share of sudden and unnatural deaths. May relishes the responsibility placed upon her but there are many who believe it's an unsuitable job for a woman and the position should be given to one of the soldiers back from the First World War. Even May begins to wonder if that shouldn't be the case when the discovery of a young man's body in a Limehouse alley plunges her into an underworld of opium dens, illegal gambling, drug dealers' turf wars, the protection rackets of the notorious Bow Kum Tong, and murder. As her investigations draw her into deeper danger it becomes increasingly clear that whoever is responsible intends to avoid the hangman's noose by arranging to have May laid out on one of her own mortuary slabs.