Alice Lacey couldn't be more different from her sister-in-law, Cora. Alice is married to John, Cora to his hapless younger brother Billie. Both women give birth to sons on one chaotic night in 1940. It is Cora's jealousy and resentment that prompts her to swap her puny baby for Alice's beautiful son. With Alice's marriage in tatters, she borrows money from Cora in order to purchase the lease of the tiny hairdresser where she works. Alice is talented; the business thrives and a chain of salons becomes Laceys of Liverpool. The relationships between the cousins Cormac and Maurice, their parents, Alice's three girls and their eventual husbands and children, combine to give a unique picture of Liverpool in the last sixty years of the twentieth century.