After a night-time arrest at her house on Cape Cod for the 1959 murder -- and alleged "cover-up" fire -- of her wealthy industrialist lover, Ezra Handley, Olivia St. Clair, a successful sculptress who was mysteriously rendered mute years earlier, persuades John Bartlemas, a local Cape Cod attorney with limited criminal law experience, to defend her in a rural South Carolina courtroom. Bartlemas is struggling with the financial and personal challenges of caring for his 19 year old son, confined to a wheelchair since a horrendous automobile crash that killed Bartlemas's estranged wife. He agrees to take on the case on the understanding that St. Clair will plead guilty, meaning only a few days away from home. Things don't work out as anticipated, though, and he finds himself enmeshed in a weeks-long trial on "foreign" turf, defending an uncooperative client who cannot speak. His opponent is Bernard Le Roi, an African-American deputy district attorney in Brooklyn, temporarily relocated to South Carolina to care for his dying mother, conscripted by the local District Attorney to prosecute Olivia St. Clair. Reluctant to get involved, he nonetheless hopes to use the trial to discover long-buried truths abut his own family secrets. The "facts" of the death of Ezra Handley this become intertwined in the personal crises facing the opposing lawyers.