Ray Atlee is a professor of law at the university of Virginia who is forty-three and newly single. He has a father, a very sick old man who lives alone in the ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi; a beloved and powerful official who has towered over local law and politics for many years and is now a recluse. With the end in sight, Judge Atlee issues a summons to Ray to return home to Clanton, to discuss the details of his estate. Ray reluctantly heads south. But the meeting does not take place. The Judge dies too soon, and in doing so leaves behind a shocking secret known only to Ray. And perhaps someone else.