For twenty years the shadow has been there, unseen, a threat to Deborah's future.
She had seemed to have everything -- books, intelligence, and indulgent, rich stepfather, and a handsome, wellborn fiancé. Then in her twenty-fourth year her stepfather died, leaving only debts, and when her mother also died not long afterward, she had to bear the burden of a terrible secret alone. Quite by chance, she had discovered that her real father, a man named Joseph Hartley, was alive. He was in prison, serving a life term for murdering an eight-year-old girl. Hoping the find a way to prove his innocence, Deborah returned to Prosperity, New Mexico, where the murder took place. She knew, too, that unless she could prove someone else strangled the little girl, she had no right to hold her fiancé to their engagement.
Almost as soon as she reached Prosperity, Deborah clashed with Ben Farrel, the acting chief of police. His father, the elected police chief, now recovering from a stroke, was the one who discovered the overwhelming evidence against Joseph Hartley. Protective of the invalid, Ben was determined not to allow Deborah to upset his father by trying to reopen a case closed twenty years before.
Ignoring Ben's disapproval, she stayed on in Prosperity. A visit with her imprisoned father convinced her that he could not have committed the unspeakable crime. But who among the townspeople she encountered could have strangled Daisy McCabe and then buried her in the yard behind Joseph Hartley's house out on the desert flats? Was it Johnny Whitecloud, the middle-aged Indian Deborah saw peering through the window of the long-deserted house the day she visited it? Was it Lawrence Gainsworth, the rich man who, after Daisy's murder, befriended not only the convicted Joseph Hartley but also his heartbroken wife and three-year-old child? Was it Nathaniel Crisp, who had once courted Hartley's wife.
The only clue Deborah had was Mrs. McCabe's testimony that Daisy McCabe, in the weeks before her death, kept chattering about someone named Joe. That testimony, of course, helped to convict Joe Hartley. But Deborah was sure that there must have been another Joe, someone who killed and then vanished like a shadow, a shadow that nor threatened Deborah herself.