Memories of lifeguard days and of political boss Nucky Johnson get psychiatrist Don Carter thinking about his youth in Atlantic City. Plagued by guilt over an arrest made under the Boardwalk three decades earlier, Don returns to his hometown and finds a wasteland of empty lots and gaudy casinos. Gone is the vitality of former times, when Nucky and then Hap Farley ran the show. As Don puts it, “The town has turned to shit!”
What he doesn’t know is that the “stargazer” he arrested so long ago is waiting for him.
Soon Don is swept up in a criminal world he does not understand. Complicating the situation is his infatuation with Laura, an old flame. In desperation, he turns to a man he has deliberately avoided for years—Benito Desimone, his wife’s uncle and a leader of the Philadelphia Mafia.
Benito shares Don’s love for Pirandello and uses the Sicilian author to try to bring him to his senses about Laura. When Benito makes Don an offer he “can’t refuse,” Don has to decide whether to join forces with him. This psychological thriller reaches its dramatic climax in the mountains of North Carolina.