18 year-old Rita Gaspereaux is suddenly "orphaned" when her con-artist father's illegal enterprise blows up around her. Alone and broke in San Francisco 1922, she must now navigate his criminal world, all the time haunted by tales of a black bird statuette reputed to possess otherworldly, wish-fulfilling powers. Rita has learned much from her father about the dark fringes of society. But has she learned enough? Fortunately, she is not without her own resources. What helps her most to cope with the greed, cruelty, and deceit around her is her almost obsessive reading of fiction, particularly the novel she possesses (and is possessed by) at the time of her father's death. This book-within-the-book, a source of escape and solace for the blossoming young con-artist, tells the story of another 18 year-old, a Dorothy G. from Kansas. The two young women couldn't be more different. But as the story proceeds their lives become entwined in unexpected ways. The haunting conclusion is breathtaking.