In a mountain town during its annual Winter Fest, two people die, apparently at the hands of a deranged murderer. Clarie, the main character, finds Mrs. Amling in the snow: "She lay facedown, arms upflung, looking grotesquely childlike in her blue coveralls. Against either side of her body, her dogs huddled, shivering and looking up at me." The elderly woman who wrote children's books and seemed to have no enemies has died from a blow from a blunt instrument to the back of her head. Suspects are hard to come by. Could the killer be Ray, a lazy handyman who had worked for Mrs. Amling, and who claimed she had been infatuated with him? Perhaps the killer is Richard Moline, an untalented artist who had hoped to illustrate a book by Mrs. Amling, but had been rebuffed? The possible suspects shrink in number when Mr. Moline is found dead in a block of ice:
As I looked, other details began showing through the glitter and glare of the ice: a hand with fingers splayed, grasping. A knee, bent so that it came close to the surface of the block, so close the fabric of its jeans was clear.
The grotesquely frozen body of Moline makes it seem as though a madman is loose in Harmon Falls, perhaps hidden among the celebrants in the Winter Fest. Then footprints are found on the roof of Clarie's home; plainly someone was eavesdropping on Clarie and her father. If it was the killer, then the killer knows that Clarie possesses the clue that can identify him.