Summer 1939. Historian Tom Baines is at work on a study of Liverpool’s architectural past. If war should come, will the buildings and streets that he documents survive? Then his faltering project gets a boost when a photographer, Richard Tanqueray, and his wife Bella befriend him and together they work against the clock of a rapidly contracting peacetime.
A further preoccupation takes hold when he begins to read the journals of a brilliant young Victorian architect, Peter Eames, who briefly flourished in Liverpool in the 1860s. Through him, Baines comes to a fuller understanding of the nature of genius, but also the mysterious workings of the human heart. Eames’s own legacy will have unexpected reverberations seventy years later when war comes and Baines joins a Heavy Rescue team, retrieving the wounded from bomb-damaged buildings. With the ordinary rules of life suspended and mortal danger ever-present, he finds his courage tested – and his conscience troubled as an adulterous lover.