Cauley MacKinnon is staring down the barrel of twenty-eighth birthday, certain the only things standing between her and certain doom are instinct, pure dumb luck and a kick-ass hairdresser. Starting over after a truly bad marriage and armed with a freshly minted journalism degree, Cauley is disappointed to find that the only job she can get in her hometown of Austin is as an obituary writer - something that only happens to interns who've been very good, or reporters who've been very bad.
Somehow, Cauley's managed to do both. While on the hunt for a story that will get her off the Death Page, Cauley's life takes a turn for the worse when hapless childhood friend, Scott Barnes, threatens suicide and barricades himself in a dilapidated old shed where he phones Cauley for help. Cauley is soon devastated when she discovers Barnes dead at his computer with an empty bottle of bourbon and a computer-generated suicide note. Soon, Cauley is up to her eyelashes in dead bodies and everyone wants to know what Barnes said in the shed - the last time anyone saw him alive.