At the end of 1955, Benny Profane drifts off the street and into the Sailor’s Grave, a Norfolk tavern, and finds his old shipmate Pig Bodine. Pig had abandoned his military duty. He had abandoned ship, driven crazy by Pappy Hod, whose wife, Paola, had left him to become a barmaid at the Sailor’s Grave.
After a wild New Year’s Eve party, Profane and Paola take a bus to New York. Profane begins to worry that Paola is becoming dependent on him, so he dumps her off on Rachel Owlglass, his occasional girlfriend. Freed of Paola, he travels across town on the subway until he meets the Mendoza family, who helps him get a job hunting albino alligators under the streets in New York’s sewer system.
Meanwhile, Rachel pays her roommate Esther’s financial debt to Dr. Schoenmaker, the plastic surgeon who had performed Esther’s nose job. Esther’s surgery had reminded the doctor of his original motivation to practice reconstructive surgery. As a mechanic in World War I, Schoenmaker’s hero, the ace aviator Evan Godolphin, had a horribly disfiguring accident. A quack surgeon experimented with grafting ivory, silver, and other inert matter into Evan’s face. This material later decayed and destroyed the young, once-handsome Godolphin’s appearance.
Haunted by his father’s death in Valletta in 1919, Herbert Stencil materializes in New York in 1956 at a party thrown by the Whole Sick Crew. He is tormented by a passage in his father’s diary that refers to a mysterious “V.” When he reads this passage, Stencil begins his quest for V.
It is now 1898. Sidney Stencil, Herbert’s father, is in Cairo when British spy, Porpentine, is assassinated here. Sidney soon encounters Victoria Wren, a beautiful young tourist with a penchant for espionage. They are both in Florence one year later when Hugh Godolphin and his son, Evan, are drawn into a revolutionary conspiracy and an absurd plot to steal painter Sandro Botticelli’s Venus.
The theft fails, but the enigmatic figure resurfaces in a story Herbert hears in the Rusty Spoon, a place frequented by the Crew. According to...
(The entire section is 873 words.)