After months of menacing phone calls and feeling that her every move is being watched, successful writer Beryl Madison flees Key West when a terrifying message is scratched on her car. But the very night she returns to Richmond, she deactivates her burglar alarm and opens her door to someone who nearly decapitates her. Why did she let him in, wonders Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta? And, why is Beryl's latest manuscript missing? Persuing the answers involves Scarpetta in the murder of another writer - Beryl's jealous mentor. While she copes with a variety of personal and professional problems, Scarpetta's high-tech forensic skills enable her to collect a body of evidence - clues that would mean little without her intelligence, compassion, and imagination - that leads her directly into a nightmare all her own.