When Parker Collins, a gifted writing student at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, fails to show up for the first day of fall classes, his frantic girlfriend, Rishima Reynolds, files a missing person’s report. Though Parker has a history of alcohol abuse, disorderly conduct, and truancy, she insists he is committed to his writing classes, and is adamant something is very wrong. Persuaded by the depth of her conviction, Radhauser drives up to a cabin at Sunset Lake where Parker spent the last month finishing a novel. It’s a manuscript his mentor, Professor Madison Hollingsworth, claims is brilliant. The Hollingsworth cabin has been trashed—the padlock on the liquor cabinet cut and empty bottles are strewn around the kitchen. It appears Parker has gone on a binge and disappeared with the Hollingsworth boat. Radhauser knows appearances are often deceiving. He returns to Ashland, hoping Parker is out on the lake and nursing a gigantic headache. But something about the cabin scene nags at Radhauser and won’t let him go.
The following morning, 72-year-old Homer "Sully" Sullivan, one of the lake's few year-round residents, finds a bloated body floating face-down near his cottage. He phones Radhauser, terrified it could be Parker Collins—the boy Sully befriended and has come to love. Will this missing person’s case become a murder investigation?