A hitchhiker stumbles to his knees on the side of a dark road. Private detective Lew Archer stops his car. When he gets to the young man, Archer realizes that he has stumbled into a mess—for the hitchhiker is dying of a gunshot wound.
In a matter of hours, Archer is suspected by the law, hired by a target-shooting trucking magnate, and propositioned by an adulterer's wife. A hijacked truck full of liquor and an evidence box full of marijuana, $20,000 from a big-time bank heist by a small-time crook, corruption, adultery, incest, prodigal daughters and abused wives, and a band of sinners on the loose in the hills—all make the little town of Las Cruces seem a lot more interesting than noted in the guide book. As the murder rate rises, Archer finds himself caught up in a mystery in which everyone is a suspect and everyone a victim.