James O'Neil, a well-to-do copy editor from the Hampton Roads, is convinced he can save his lawless and ill natured cousin Blacky from self destruction. James finds that the task of doing so is far more dangerous than he expected. In his attempts to dissuade Blacky from a life of crime, James encounters a variety of unsavory characters, and his naiveté subsequently takes him deep into the cruel and unforgiving world of Blacky. James learns that Blacky is leaving a pile of corpses in his wake. And upon this, James is ultimately devastated by the murder of someone dear to him.