Minneapolis, Minnesota, during the steamy summer of 1953. When publishing-company heir Bower Stockman hires Frank Gates, a down-on-his-luck private investigator, to arrange a murder, Gates contacts “handyman” Harry Fairchild. Harry, a childhood pal, has done that kind of “odd job” before and needs cash as bad as Frank does. But the situation is complicated. MPD detective Pinky Moberg intends to cap his long career by solving an infamous 15-year-old homicide. His prime suspect: Harry Fairchild, aided and abetted by Frank Gates. Further roiling the waters, Raymond Gates, Frank’s troubled stepson, has seduced Stockman’s wife and will stop at nothing to steal her from her husband. The overlapping relationships and tangled objectives lead to an unlikely yet inevitable conclusion in which a broken man betrays an old friend and star-crossed lovers face brutal retribution.
Rennie Beausoleil and Werther Wolfe are middle-aged brothers-in-law whose edgy relationship dates back to high school. Now, in the late 1980s, Beausoleil is a short-tempered, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing ex-homicide detective; “Wolfie” is a brilliant psychopath who’s grown tired of the preposterous scam that’s made him and his wife—Rennie’s provocative half-sister—wealthy. Beausoleil is obsessed with the execution-style murder of another classmate, Kenny Hiltz, and is convinced Wolfie was Hiltz’s murderer. Wolfie, meanwhile, is planning a second “perfect” murder—and Rennie is his designated victim. The two men play their deadly, sometimes slapstick cat-and-mouse game in the deteriorating Minneapolis neighborhood where they grew up, surrounded by ex-wives and lovers, old pals, aging rivals, and a pair of bumbling thugs, none of whom seems capable of escaping the troubled past or staving off a lethal future.
At first glance, Whittier Avenue, on the South Side of Minneapolis, is a happy place in April 1948. World War II is over and the neighborhood anticipates the return of spring. Below the surface, however, Whittier Avenue simmers with dark secrets and combustible relationships. Husband and father Buddy Bailey has lurched into a torrid affair with Cora Delafield, the wife of a new neighbor. Cora’s husband, Henry, has fallen in love with Buddy’s wife, Evelyn, whom he’s determined to take from Buddy and launch on a singing career. But Henry is not who he purports to be, and when Evelyn’s shady brother-in-law is murdered in a Whittier Avenue alley, both he and Buddy become the focus of a relentless homicide investigation. Events come to a boil on the Fourth of July, when the foursome picnic at a hellish amusement park on the outskirts of the city. Before the night is over, one of them is dead and the others’ lives are changed forever.