A teenager returns home from school to find a gruesome scene: the apartment he shares with his mother in Boston's Chinatown has been ransacked, and she is dead. There is a bottle of Moutai, the most exotic and expensive Chinese liquor, left at the scene and traces of rat poison in one of the two shot glasses on the kitchen counter. This was evidently a homicide, but who could possibly be the killer?
Ann Lee and Fang Chen, close friends of the victim, team up with the Boston police to solve this mystifying crime: why would anyone want to murder a harmless middle-aged woman, one who worked as an unassuming mail-room clerk, with no money, no connections, and presumably, no enemies?
Realizing that important clues behind the motive may be buried deep in the victim's past, they travel to Beijing, where the victim spent more than 50 years of her life. While there, surrounded by the antiquities of China's rich and complex history, they stumble unwittingly into a cobweb of mystery and danger. Fearing for their lives but determined to press on, they end up unearthing a scandal more deceptive and far-reaching than either could have imagined.