Link becomes homeless after a fight with his mother's boyfriend Vince. Thinking he is no longer safe in Bradford, he goes to London. He soon finds a room, but a fortnight's rent costs him two-thirds of his money. He looks for a job but no one will take him on as he has no experience and has only five GCSEs. Soon the landlord kicks him out and he is officially homeless. Now Link cannot get a job since he has no address and he cannot get an address since he has no job. Link is very afraid alone on the streets, but after a while he meets Ginger who is also homeless. Ginger teaches Link how to survive on the street and how to beg.
Meanwhile Shelter (real name unknown) is planning a mass murder of all the homeless people in London. Shelter served in the Army for twenty-nine years. He was discharged on medical grounds, but he claims to be as fit as a butcher's dog. Bewildered by his discharge, and without occupation, he takes his frustrations out on the homeless who make the streets look "manky". Shelter plans very meticulously. He starts small and tries not to create a pattern in his killings so he cannot be tracked down. By buying a flat and a cat he manages to lure many of the homeless to their deaths. By the time he encounters Link, Shelter has killed seven people. Seven homeless people.
Link and Ginger ask him for any spare change, but he replies "Change! I'd change you, me lad, if I had you in khaki for 6 weeks!". As they walk away they laugh at a remembered joke, yet Shelter thinks they are laughing at him. They become his targets – named Laughing Boy One (Ginger) and Laughing Boy Two (Link).
As Ginger is going to meet some friends, Shelter persuades him to come to his flat, saying that Link is there, lying down after an accident. Once there, Shelter kills Ginger. After some time, Link accepts that Ginger has vanished and that he is on his own again. Shortly after this, Link meets Gail, the best-looking dosser he has ever seen. Gail follows Link, asking him questions.
Link notices that something is "off" about Gail, but he does not know what. While Gail leaves him to make a phone call, Shelter invites Link into his flat and tries to kill him. Gail manages to save Link's life by calling the police, who catch Shelter in the act of attempted murder. At the end Link hears that Gail is a reporter who is undercover as a homeless person. Gail gives Link some money, but he considers throwing it away. Moreover Link thinks that it is unfair that Shelter gets a roof over his head and a hot meal and Link gets nothing – living in the cold, hungry. By contrast, he is on his own again. Gail's real name is Louise Bain.
Link/Dave is the main character of the novel. He was born on March 20 1977. Link is not his real name, but it is what he says when anyone asks. He got his name from a sign which read "Thameslink" upon arriving in London from Bradford. Link refers to his origin as "up north" to avoid revealing his birth place.
After a few bad days of being homeless he meets Ginger, a streetwise person who has been homeless for quite some time. But Link does not trust him entirely, because every time, when Ginger leaves him, Link feels scared and guesses that Ginger goes to his real mates.
Shelter is a former sergeant-major who is on a mission to kill all of the homeless people of London, because they he considers they 'make the place look untidy.' He means too that there is nobody who does anything against them. On the contrary, politicians, social workers and even the church support them, undermining the country by encouraging "winos and crims".
Shelter is the main antagonist of the book.
Ginger is a streetwise homeless person who becomes Link's friend after meeting in a deep doorway. He has been homeless for quite some time, and he tells Link that smoking helps dull the pain of hunger. He and Link become best friends.
Gail is a reporter investigating homelessness. She meets Link later in the story after Ginger goes missing. She reveals her secret of being a reporter gradually by making 'urgent' and frequent phone calls, having a lot of money and asking a lot of questions. After Shelter is arrested by the police, she tells Link of her true identity. Gail disappoints and shortchanges him.
Other people in this book are the homeless victims of Shelter, who lures them to his dry warm flat, where he kills them.