Willie Black has squandered a lot of things in this life—his liver, his lungs, a couple of former wives and a floundering daughter can all attest to his abuse. He’s lucky to be employed, having managed to drink and smart-talk his way out of a nice, cushy job covering (and partying with) the politicians down at the capitol.
Now, he’s back on the night cops beat, right where he started when he came to work for the paper almost 30 years ago. The thing Willie’s always had going for him, though, all the way back to his hardscrabble days as a mixed-race kid on Oregon Hill, where white was the primary color and fighting was everyone’s favorite leisure pastime, was grit. His mother, the drug-addled Peggy, gave him that if nothing else. He never backed down then, and he shows no signs of changing.
When a co-ed at the local university where Willie’s daughter is a perpetual student is murdered, her headless body found along the South Anna River, the hapless alleged killer is arrested within days. Everyone but Willie seems to think: Case closed. But Willie, against the orders and advice of his bosses at the paper, the police and just about everyone else, doesn’t think it’s closed at all. He embarks on a one-man crusade to do what he’s always done: Get the story. On the way, he runs afoul of a nightmare from his youth, a city cop named David Shiflett, and another dark force, one everyone thought disappeared a long time ago. And a score born in an Oregon Hill beer joint’s parking lot 40 years ago will finally be settled.