Matthew Hawkwood is a Bow Street Runner, an ex-military captain in the 95th. Rifles, part of a small group of English investigators known by the underworld as 'Racatchers'. The story begins with a murderous attack by two highwaymen on the outskirts of London. One of the victims is carrying a briefcase attached to his wrist. Both briefcase and wrist part company with the body as the robbers escape.
Hawkwood is called in to catch the culprits though his superiors omit to tell him the briefcase contained certain very important military documents.
Initially, his contacts take him through the stinking streets of old London, where Hawkwood has to use his skills and military training to avoid serious attempts on his life by the typical robbers and neer-do-wells of the city. Except that one of these low-lifes is not quite as he seems, as the trail Hawkwood picks up leads him to a wealthy aristocrat-cum-businessman.
Hawkwood's superior manages to arrange for him to attend a grand ball at the businessman's mansion where he meets a beautiful French lady, rescuing her from a lusty attack by a group of young English aristocrats. The resulting liaison seems innocuous until evidence later emerges that she knows more about Hawkwood than he realised.
At the same time, another Runner, whilst investigating the disappearance of a clock-maker, is found murdered on the banks of the Thames. Hawkwood is pressed into dealing with this, too and it soon becomes clear from the evidence found at the scene that the murder, the disappearance and the higway robbery are all in some way connected.
Enter the American inventor who's plans for underwater submersibles were in the briefcase originally stolen at the beginning of the story and who has a massive grudge against the British created during the war with England. Hawkwood finds himself dealing with a man very intent in dealing the English a severe naval disaster which will enable Napoleon Bonaparte to succeed in his long-running battle with them. Plus, of course, he will receive epic amounts of money for every ship destroyed by the submersible.
Surviving capture, injury, near death and with a little help from friends enables Hawkwood to survive the attack on the naval dockyard and deal with the villains of the peace. Whether he finally succeeds in killing them all should remain for the reader to discover.
This report prepared by michael watson