On March 4, 1861, the air at the inaugural ball is charged with hope and apprehension. The last thing anyone wants is any sort of hitch in the proceedings, so Lincoln's trusted entourage is on their guard: Allan Pinkerton, head of the president's security team, is wary of potential assassins, and Lincoln's oldest friend, Joshua Speed, is by his side, along with Speed's nephew, Adam Quinn, a jack-of-all-trades who's been called back from the Kansas frontier to serve as Lincoln's assistant.
But despite the tight security, trouble comes anyway: a man is found stabbed to death in a nearby room, only yards from the president. Not wishing to cause alarm, Lincoln dispatches young Quinn-instead of the high-profile Pinkerton-to discreetly investigate. Soon enough, Quinn is relying on the observation skills he developed as a scout and on unexpected allies - a determined female journalist and a free man of color - as he navigates high society, political personages, and a city preparing for war in order to solve the crime.