When teenaged Ed Hunter's alcoholic father is murdered, Ed is for all intents and purposes orphaned, as he feels no affection whatsoever for his mean-spirited stepmother and hypersexual stepsister. The police dismiss the case as nothing more than the random murder of a back-alley drunk, and so Ed decides to investigate the crime on his own. Ed enlists the help of his father's brother, Ambrose Hunter, an itinerant carny, who he has not seen in many years, and the two of them set out to solve the crime. Together they wade through a swamp of unseemly characters of the Chicago underworld to expose the real murderer of their father and brother. Along the way, with Am's guidance, Ed comes to realize that his father was not the hapless, pathetic man he had always believed him to be.