On a January morning in Beijing a child skating on a frozen lake finds the corpse of a white man under the ice. Liu Hulan, a woman detective, is assigned to head what will be a delicate investigation. The murder victim is the son of the American Ambassador.
Thousands of miles away, David Stark, an assistant US attorney, boards the China Peony, a barely sea-worthy freighter carrying hundreds of illegal immigrants to America. On board he finds the badly decomposed body of a 'Red Prince'', a child of one of China's top officials. The murders appear to have nothing in common until rare plant fibres are found to be coating the respiratory tracts of both victims, and the Chinese and American governments agree to work together.