On a stifling mid-summer day, 11-year-old Claire Hofer descends from her perch in a pine tree and sets out carrying lunch to her father, where he's at work raking hay. As she nears the field, she hears no rumbling tractor and sees only a skinny, unfriendly-looking stranger scuffling through the stubble toward her. She turns and runs, but there is no escaping the troubles to come. The man is Township Constable John McIntire, and Claire's father is dead. McIntire finds the crime baffling. Reuben Hofer has only lived in the old St. Adele schoolhouse since early May; hardly long enough to make enemies. His family has had little contact with anyone in the community save the Catholic priest and Doctor Mark Guibard, who's been attending Hofer's chronically ill, morbidly obese wife. But Hofer was not exactly the newcomer McIntire had believed. During the war, he spent time incarcerated only a few miles away in a Civilian Public Service camp - a camp for the rebellious conscientious objectors that the church-run institutions couldn't handle. Old acquaintances turn up, among them a former camp guard and a femme fatale hairdresser. But there seems to be no one with a plausible motive for murder or for the disturbing and macabre incidents that follow. More understandable is the Hofer family's lack of cooperation in the investigation. The victim's years in the CPS camps, followed by a stretch in federal prison, meant that he was a stranger to his children - until he returned home to become their overlord. The spotlight of a murder investigation causes greater misery to a family already devastated by misfortune and poverty, and McIntire confronts a fumbling nemesis in the bewildered, frightened, but determined, Claire.