Terry Brill, a fourteen year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau, is visiting his uncle’s wheat ranch in rural Washington State when a neighboring rancher is shot and killed. Pressured to join the investigation, Brill tracks down and arrests the prime suspect, drug-dealing bad boy Enrique Valdez. The locals couldn’t be happier, but Brill soon starts to feel as if he’s being played. Turns out it wasn’t so much solid evidence as it was community racism and Valdez’s unsavory reputation that made him a prime suspect. And the murder victim, if an able rancher, was a despicable man, who any number of locals had reason to kill.
Sorting through the community’s dirty laundry, Brill is in for another surprise. Whereas Valdez, if released, will almost certainly resume his evil ways, the real killer—murder aside—is one of the community’s few guardian angels, a caring and generous benefactor. What now? Should Brill, consistent with past practice, let Valdez take the fall? Or should he do “the right thing” and divulge the true killer’s identify? Brill’s ultimate decision may or may not be just—but there’s no gainsaying its awful finality.