Twenty-five years ago, Stella Guzzo beat her daughter to death and then walked up the street to play bingo at her parish church.
Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski grew up with the Guzzo family. She dated Frank Guzzo when they were teens and knew Stella’s murderous rages first-hand, so she was relieved when a judge sent Stella to prison for a long stretch.
V.I. and Frank went their different ways, V.I. to university and law school, Frank to marriage, children, and a job as a truck driver. She didn’t think about the family again until the day Frank came to her office, wanting V.I. to help his mother with an exoneration claim. The detective wants no part of Stella Guzzo’s world, but she realizes how hard life has been for Frank, stuck in the gang-ridden streets around Chicago’s dead steel mills, and she doesn’t feel able to say no.
V.I. starts asking questions, but the answers leave her puzzled. Was Stella’s daughter Annie the ardent girl V.I. remembers, looking for a college education as a way out of South Chicago? Or was she a calculating, amoral person, as Stella claims? And what about the lawyers Annie worked for – why did they insist on representing Stella in her murder trial?
V.I.’s inquiries put her smack in the path of a notorious Mob enforcer. When she gets jumped in her old ‘hood, her biggest question becomes whether she will live long enough to find the answers.