Sheriff James Early is an old-fashioned lawman in late 1940s Kansas confronted with a gruesome murder and a daylight bank robbery that leads him on a futile chase. The outrageous robbery is a welcome distraction to the brutal axe murder of a local schoolteacher, Judith Smitts. Early is a good-hearted, cowboy lawman with a pregnant wife, more at home on the range than facing the ugly realities of his job. Investigating the murdered woman’s past, the sheriff discovers connections to a newly-formed Israel that belie the unassuming lifestyle of a teacher, wife and mother.
Peterson sprinkles his homey, but ultimately tragic tale with eccentric characters and quirky events: a conversation with President Harry Truman while in Kansas City to interview a witness, a spontaneous friendship with a black railroad worker, an audacious bank robber, an Israeli agent, and a homeless old man who provides a critical link to the killer. At the heart of all is a conscientious sheriff who solves the murder only to suffer a heartbreaking loss, an ex-foot soldier who personifies the landscape of post-WWII America.