"It was almost midnight on New Year's Eve. Martha Leland poured herself a drink, her labors worthy of celebration. She stood before the mirror and toasted her reflection. The clock began to strike and the big fireworks on the bridge behind her reflected their lurid blossoms in the glass. The great booms began and when the bullet struck dead center at the back of her skull, she might have seen the blinding splintered light of the finale, she might have heard the great white rushing noise of death."
On New Year's Day, Oklahoma Detective Hiram Flagg is called in to the Bliss County Court House by the newly installed Chief of Police. Initially, Flagg feels that he must, for the first time in his career, ask to be relieved from a case. He and Martha Leland have crossed paths before. Ultimately, however, he knows he must see this case through to the end.
Suspects begin to emerge from Martha Leland's immediate family and close circle of friends: the daughter, Anna Leland, an alcoholic undergoing psychiatric analysis with a secret wish for revenge; the son, Walker Leland, hungry for easy money and running with the wrong crowd; the ex-husband, Jack Leland, and his new young wife Margo, bitter after the messy divorce and quick remarriage; Martha's sister, Shirley, and her husband Jim Boyd, harboring a painful secret; portrait artist Gordon Grimes, motivated by greed and a desire to elevate his standing among the wealthy matrons of the town; and gigolo Jeff Sinclair, friend to Martha's son Walker, claiming to be Martha's most recent "love" interest.
With the discovery of a second body, the pace quickens and subplots converge during the lakeside memorial service of Martha Leland, when all suspects are present the identity of the murderer is revealed through the attempted murder of yet another victim and a surprise twist at the end.