Kay Scarpetta, is Virginia's chief medical examiner. On the same night after the convicted murderer Ronnie Joe Waddell is executed, thirteen-year-old Eddie Heath's nude and wounded body is found strut up against a dumpster and shot in the head. The two events may seem unrelated, but Dr. Scarpetta and Richmond police lieutenant Pete Marino remembered that Waddell placed his victim, Robyn Naismith, in a similar position to Eddie's. .
There was a second murder. Jennifer Deighton was murdered in her house. She was placed in her car in her garage to make it look like a suicide. A feather was found on her. A fingerprint was recovered at her house and was compared with other prints in AFIS, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The result came back saying that the print belonged to Waddell. There is no possible way that the fingerprint can belong to Waddell because Jennifer lived in the house for only a few months and Waddell had been in prison for about ten years. .
Neils Vander, the chief fingerprints examiner, wanted to compare the print found at Jennifer's house to Waddell's fingerprint cards. Apparently Waddell was never printed. Susan Story, the morgue supervisor, was supposedly to take his fingerprints. Waddell's prints were also supposed to be on file with the FBI, but it was missing. Waddell was cremated after the autopsy so there is no way to know for sure that it was actually Waddell who was executed. There was also suspicion that someone had changed Waddell's prints in the AFIS. .
A third murder had occurred not too long after Jennifer was murdered. The victim, Susan Story, was found in her car. It was unknown as to what she was doing in that part of town. Susan had lied to her family about where she was going. Scarpetta and Marino can't believe who would want to shoot a pregnant woman. A feather was found in her car. This links Susan's murder with Jennifer's. Eddie also had parts of a feather stuck on him.