The residents of the small California town of Pomo are back in full force, with all of their wacky whimsy intact. Antique dealer Warren Legacy went out to appraise the contents of a vacant Victorian house and hasn't been seen since. His clerk is distraught and his friends are concerned.
Three days have gone by since lawyer Andrew Moore gave him the keys to the old estate and Detective Mark Stoddard, of the Pomo police department, fears that his old friend has met with foul play. Legacy, meanwhile, is wandering alone and concussed in the snowy wastes of the Mendocino County forest. Stoddard retraces Legacy's steps to the vacant, boarded-up, house, and finds the corpse of a clergyman sprawled at the foot of the cellar stairs. There's a small Bible under the minister's body, with a hole cut into the pages that holds a single menthol cigarette.
Stoddard soon discovers that the dead minister wasn't the man that he pretended to be, and that his death is the last link in a chain of crime that reaches nearly two decades into the past. A long-missing teenager, two women in the faith-healing racket, a doting sister, and a man with a grudge against an absent brother-in-law combine to make this one of Mark Stoddard's most fascinating cases. Is Warren Legacy really another victim of the savage unknown killer, or has the antique dealer himself given in to some unsuspected rage and added murder to his repertoire of skills? What is the sinister significance of the antique iron key, and where is the lock that it fits? Stoddard's search for answers takes him to newspaper archives, prison records and the repressed memories of former school chums, as he uncovers a long-buried scandal of betrayal and death.