Auckland, 1863. Factory-owner Edwin Peckham desperately needs the army contract to save his failing canned meat business.  Then he receives a blackmail letter. If he pays, his business is ruined. If he doesn’t pay, his reputation is ruined. There is no way he can save both.

Ada Brightling is accused of murder, and faces the death penalty, but when Constable Stephen Clair finds proof of her innocence, she confesses to the crime anyway.

Doctor Charles Shaws once dreamed of fame and glory. But after a scandal in Paris involving the mysterious disappearance of his mentor, he fled to New Zealand under a false identity, and hates his lowly job in a lunatic asylum. However, when he meets a desperately poor woman and her twin sons, he sees an opportunity to renew his research.

Meanwhile, Edwin is tormented by sparrows and another blackmail letter arrives.

Also featuring: a killer meteorite, runaway orphans, flagellating prostitutes, ostriches, and 30,000 French criminals.