The fictional city, large and modern, and referred to only as the City of Man, is situated in the middle of Granfer County. Something is not right in the town: city services are breaking down. 9-1-1 doesn’t pick up. The police department is in disarray. Buildings are not maintained. City landscaping is untended so that shrubs and trees are taking over.
A desperate mother calls for emergency assistance when her daughter goes missing from the front yard. She leaves a message. Her call is never returned.
Just a few years earlier, a terrorist bombing of the Plexicorp building left hundreds dead. Since that event, and the subsequent election of the corrupt new mayor, Robert Knox, the city has been increasingly unstable, even while crime rates are down and inflation is under control.
Four adults come together, each struggling with their own psychological demons. Moira is the abusive, addicted, single mother of a six-year-old vanished in the mid-afternoon daylight. She meets Angus, the loner who has nothing except his motorcycle and sleeping in shelters and going from job to job. Lieutenant McCarthy is the last good cop in a city riddled with corruption and sloth. And the titular character, the superhero who wakes one day to find he is now just an ordinary man, starts calling himself John Common. He must now face life as a normal person.
The child abduction story is the backdrop for the more complex narrative of these four adults, each one broken in some way, trying to find and rescue one innocent girl. The mother, Mary, and Angus the motorcyclist, begin by making a ruckus in city offices seeking aid. By day Mary raises a clamor in office after office where the sergeants and clerks find her an annoyance. By night they sleep wherever they can. They learn of Detective McCarthy, a cop from the days before things turned bad, who might help them. But he remains elusive.
McCarthy has been sidelined for his principled stance again the corruption and unionization of the police force. In his considerable free time, he has found a hobby in studying the old city records that date back to the foundation of the city: journals, newspapers, portfolios of every sort. In the records, he reconstructs the Old Western-style story of how this town really got started, the characters who established it, and the shocking events that set its troubled course for all the years leading up to present day.
Finally, the Former Hero himself, once known as Omni-Man, now calls himself simply “John Common.” Having committed himself to a hospital seeking aid in restoring his mighty endowment, he slowly comes to accept that his powers are gone forever and he must face life as a normal man, a deep psychological blow. He clearly suffers from narcolepsy and dramatic swings of mood. But the doctors become increasingly suspicious that he may in fact be a violent criminal. He makes a desperate escape from the hospital with nothing but a thin gown.
His personal journey brings him to the dreadful realization that he never was a superhero, that he was delusional and self-deceived, a projection he created in the wake of an earlier moral failure with dire consequences for the city.
The sequence of events that bring the four together is a thrilling journey in itself and leads to the climax of the book in which the location of the girl is discovered, and the four set out at night to go rescue her. What happens is the surprise ending that will not be spoiled here, but suffice it to say that it is completely unexpected.
This book is a multi-genre work with sections of noir, western, lyrical poetry, songs, 1950’s superhero diction, and straight narrative. It contains a great deal of symbolism and multiple points of view. It explores many themes among which is the following question: is it better to be blissful and believe falsehood, or to know the truth with all of the burdens that comes with it?