V. I. Warshawski's impossible goddaughter, Bernie, convinces her to look for August, a young filmmaker who has disappeared. The evidence indicates that he has gone to Kansas in the company of Emerald, an older black movie actress who wants to film the story of her life.
Her search takes V. I. from the military base Emerald was born on to the farm where she grew up outside a university town, ploughing up past and present-day secrets as she goes. What is happening at the former nuclear missile site next door to the farm? What happened at the site in 1983, when students tried to stage their own version of Greenham Common? Everywhere V. I. turns she seems to be finding more trouble - with not a sign of August and Emerald. And then trouble turns to death....