Pickard’s novel is set in the small town of Rose, Kansas, and on a ranch owned by an influential family, the Linders. The drama begins on a stormy night in 1986 when a young husband is fatally shot and his wife disappears, their little daughter, Jody Linder, left without mother or father. After a speedy trial, Billy Crosby, a violent drunk, is convicted. Now, twenty-six years later, after Jody has created a carefully-constructed world with the support of her grandparents and uncles, Crosby’s sentence is commuted.
The house of cards Jody has painstakingly created falls apart with the realization that Billy will return to Rose, revenge on his mind and hate in his heart. Angry and frightened, Jody gradually discovers the troubling details surrounding the crime that have been kept from her all these years - including the fact that many of the residents of Rose have never thought Billy guilty of more than meanness and drunkenness. The common opinion is that Billy was scapegoated to assuage the powerful Linder family after the tragic death of their eldest son: “It wasn’t a crime. It was a tragedy.” Protected by solicitous uncles and her wealthy, devoted grandparents, Jody is the brave one who asks the hard questions and demands answers. If Billy isn’t the killer, who is?
The secrets, lies, betrayals and mistakes of the Linder family are exposed by a young woman’s determination to learn what really happened that night when passions ran high and a drunken, angry Billy stumbled out of the local bar. While Jody has grown up yearning to know more about her mother, Billy’s wife and son have patiently waited as well, working through the legal system for his release. Whatever their best intentions, Jody’s grandparents have been complicit in the deception, unwilling or unable to entertain the fact that Billy was innocent all those years ago. In an oft slow-paced tale, Pickard recreates that dark, rainy night and the events leading to a violent death and a disappearance, family secrets hidden behind expediency and the pain of loss.
This is rural America, where small-town values are at the heart of decent people’s daily lives, where murder seldom happens. Nature has its own balance of life and death, but this kind of violence changes the complexion of a town and its history. Now, with Billy Crosby returning to Rose, the ugly secrets are revealed in all their venality, the consequences irrevocable as the Linder family staggers from yet another blow. In the final reckoning, death revisits this family and this place, but so does an opportunity for forgiveness. For Jody, comfort is found in the most unexpected of places.