Zeb Pierce, D.A., is faced with re_election, opposed by Noble Stein, a young, popular, third_generation lawyer from a large firm named Lee, Stein, Brown, & Harris. Before Zeb can decide whether he´ll run again, suddenly four business men are found murdered with viper venom. Their nude bodies are found one a week apart and in different rooms of the Riverside Hotel. A viper´s head is drawn with lipstick on each bathroom mirror.
The town raises_up in fear of a serial killer. Zeb can´t find a clue. The elected officials blame him for not making an arrest.
Zeb and his assistant, Madge, make a two day trip into the Bienville National Forest to visit an old hermit who is supposed to know more about vipers than anyone around. This trip is a winter wonderland excursion; but they find the old hermit, Elmer Crook, and gain evidence about an unidentified horsewoman who contracted with the old hermit for a supply of viper venom.
Chancery Judge Bullard becomes the fifth victim and Zeb begins to think he´s on the wrong road to a solution; that it´s not a serial killer. The fact that the Mayor´s political cronies are getting jittery over how the newly appointed Chancellor Clark will rule on a law affecting gambling suggest to Zeb that gambling interest are involved.
After Judge Bullard becomes the fifth victim, the Mayor demands that Zeb make an arrest. The only evidence Zeb has incriminates his girlfriend, Deborah. As a lawyer, Deborah confessed to Zeb previously that she had represented some gambling companies. A search warrant secured by the Mayor, and conducted by the city police, turns up a signed copy of deceased Judge Bullard´s unfiled opinion in Deborah’s possession. Deborah, being the last one to see Judge Bullard alive, becomes a prime suspect. The Mayor demands Deborah´s arrest and Zeb prosecutes her reluctantly. Knowing in his mind she is innocent, Zeb throws the trial and deliberately sets up Seth Beamon, Deborah´s defense attorney, for a directed verdict.
Zeb, bothered by his breach of ethics, keeps on pushing. He discovers that the first four murder victims were on the board of directors for the Riverside Hotel. He also discovers Christian McInnis´ Uno Nummata gambling company wants to buy the Riverside but the Riverside´s board has refused to sell. So it all adds up.
Not having enough to secure an indictment from the grand jury; Zeb sets a trap for Mayor Rushing and Judge Baremore. The trap works. Judge Baremore is exposed and co_operates. There are two more deaths but justice is served.