A man is haunted by the memory of his mother standing under a gibbet with a rope round her neck. It is the American War of Independence, and having defied the British forces occupying New York she must pay for her revolutionary activities. But fifty years on her son harbours a festering guilt for his inadvertent part in her downfall. Then, in a nineteenth-century New York of thrusting commercial enterprise, a ruthless merchant's sensitive son is denied the love of his life through his father's prejudice against the immigrants then flooding into the city - and madness and violence ensue. Finally, a Manhattan psychiatrist tries to treat a favoured patient reeling from the destruction of the World Trade Centre. But she fails to detect the damage she herself has sustained, and suffers the consequences of her blindness.