World War I has ended but in the racial cauldron of the slums of Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, a different war begins. Here, Sophie James, a beautiful young Somali whore, plies her dangerous trade. The idealistic Reverend Thomas, believing himself called by God, works among the warring races.
The novel features a number of transvestites:
“… But there was one place Billy never stopped to gossip, no matter how late he was, and that was at the entrance to Howard Close where, at this twilight time, the port transvestites gathered … For this was the meeting place of the lowest of the low; the truly alienated from all the ships of the world, given D.R.s and beached by storms of hatred until now all that was left to them was to gather here where they could talk – often in mad gibberish – amongst themselves. Even the police avoided this spot.
There was Lia Ling who joked with Abu Sakar. A few minutes later another wandered across the road to join them. A fourth came swaying in with an exaggerated mincing of the hips. Now there was a lot of low whistling as Nazeem walked up the pavement. A few cackled as others patted their hair or pulled at their drawers under their dresses as if they had suddenly become too tight. Another in a long red ballgown joined them until there were now about fifteen of them, chucking and preening themselves as they moved around like river weeds in a slight current.
The undoubted leader of this lipsticked throng was Nazeem, whose long black hair was so well groomed and whose movements were so femininely supple that he, alone of the group, was allowed to walk in other parts of the Bay without being driven back to this, their spot. His singular beauty intrigued rather than gave offence. The exquisite bone structure of his jaw was enhanced by his green cat-like eyes and a scar on his cheek so deep that not even face powder covered it.
Never elected as such, the group nevertheless bestowed leadership on him, some even approaching him, saying a few obsequious words before stepping to one side. Some looked to him for advice, which he gave freely, if sometimes pompously. If he ever actually asked any of them a question some of them became so overwhelmed they babbled incoherently in reply and, bored stiff, he just stepped past them. But all the time his wildcat eyes kept looking around him as if he was expecting someone important to arrive. All the time his hands kept playing with a green chiffon scarf. It was almost as if the others saw in Nazeem what they could be if they had some luck and played their cards right. That beauty! Those clothes! And all those men!”