11:05 P.M. Convicted murderer Ronnie Joe Waddell is pronounced dead in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s electric chair.
In the morgue, Dr. Kay Scarpetta has been waiting for Waddell’s body. It’s a strange feeling, preparing for an autopsy before the subject is dead. But Scarpetta’s been here before. As Virginia’s chief medical examiner, she knows the tension of watching the clock as the execution hour draws near.
Waddell’s death isn’t the only newsworthy event on this cold December night. Three hours after thirteen-year-old Eddie Heath goes out to a convenience store to buy a can of soup, his nude, grotesquely wounded body is found propped against a dumpster.
Waddell’s execution, the attack on Eddie—the two events seem unrelated until Scarpetta and Richmond police lieutenant Pete Marino remember that Waddell arranged his victim in a strikingly similar position to Eddie’s. And then there’s a new murder, the most puzzling of all.
The crime scenes yield few clues: old bloodstains, fragments of feather, and—most baffling—a bloody fingerprint that points Scarpetta to the one suspect who could not possibly have committed this murder.
And somewhere in Virginia’s corridors of power, perhaps even in her own office, lurks an enemy who will destroy Scarpetta unless she can produce the proof that will clear her name. With some help from her seventeen-year-old niece, computer whiz Lucy, as well as from her loyal friend Lieutenant Marino and FBI agent Benton Wesley, Scarpetta musters all her forensic expertise and investigative skills to uncover shocking secrets that will have vast repercussions.