October 1918: the war on the Western Front is all but over. Desperate for one last chance of promotion, the ambitious Lieutenant Henri d'Aulnay Pradelle sends two scouts over the top, and secretly shoots them in the back to incite his men to heroic action once more.
And so is set in motion a series of devastating events that will inextricably bind together the fates and fortunes of Pradelle and the two soldiers who witness his crime: Albert Maillard and Édouard Péricourt.
Back in civilian life, Albert and Édouard struggle to adjust to a society whose reverence for its dead cannot quite match its resentment for those who survived. But the two soldiers conspire to enact an audacious form of revenge against the country that abandoned them to penury and despair, with a scheme to swindle the whole of France on an epic scale.
Meanwhile, believing her brother killed in action, Édouard's sister Madeleine has married Pradelle, who is running a little scam of his own...