With its shut-down mines, with its scarred and restive blue-collar descendants of Eastern European and Italian immigrants, Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, is in the midst of tough times. And no one has it tougher than its own police chief, Mario Balzic. Working harder and longer hours than he ever did in his long-ago rookie days, Balzic again pilots a black-and-white through the town's brooding streets. The recent death of his mother, whose warm presence is especially missed by his wife Ruth, doesn't make it easier. Balzic answers a call: a strange woman, Valery, mother of a young daughter named Coo, warns that her violent husband may exact a brutal form of revenge on a truck-driver with a shady past. She wants Balzic to head off the attack, but supplies few details. Balzic senses worse trouble ahead than suggested by Valery - and events prove Balzic's instincts apocalyptically correct. Meanwhile, at the local tavern, Balzic encounters Myushkin, a wild, deceptively eccentric Russian-American writer, with nine novels to his credit, no visible means of support, and an alarming facility with a .22 revolver. It's Myushkin who becomes Balzic's spiritual guide through the case - and a peculiarly American, distinctly personal brand of hell.