1879, Queensland. Fleeing her family home, 19-year-old Mary Oxnam has few prospects and no connections. Plain and penniless, she must rely on her audacious wit and fierce intelligence to survive. Mary soon finds work as a pianist in a Cooktown brothel, a cover for more lucrative employment as a spy into smuggling operations. Within a year she has moved to Lizard Island, locked into a marriage of convenience. It's a rough, isolated place, crawling with hidden enemies - and unexpected temptation.
One-eyed Jack Falconer is a man with many secrets. It's 1938, the eve of World War II, and a pearling lugger in the Torres Strait is the place he chooses to hide. But Jack's demons follow him out to sea and rise to the surface just as surely as the pearl shell his divers collect from the dangers of the deep. Embittered, intelligent and self-destructive, Jack's only way to prove himself is to compete with, defeat and destroy the very weaknesses he fears.