Deputy Chief of the New Mexico State Police Kevin Kerney and a friend are riding horseback exploring the 6400 acres Kerney has unexpectedly inherited when suddenly a skinny black dog appears carrying first one shoe, then another. The dog has unearthed a headless human skeleton, identity unknown.
Kerney’s new property (at least until the taxes are due) includes forestland and a sweeping mesa in the shadow of Hermit’s Peak. It is part of the beautiful and rugged country east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a huge but sparsely settled area that Kerney finds rife with illegal activity. Someone is logging trees from Kerney’s forestland. Someone is growing marijuana in a hidden greenhouse. Someone is collecting an endangered species of cactus. Someone is on a killing spree. And none of these are the same someone. Kerney becomes increasingly strained trying to direct several cases at once. A stalker is on the loose. A stolen property ring extends as far away as central Texas. The college-age only son of policeman Gabe Gonzales disappears. The scenes jump from one situation to another.
Career army woman Sara Brannon is reintroduced among the large cast of characters. In the opening scenes, Brannon is promoted to Colonel for her service in Korea, and, when given leave, heads directly to Santa Fe, eager to see Kerney. Their relationship provides yet another subplot for the novel, and may or may not satisfy the growing number of readers who follow the series.