An unidentified woman's body washes up at nearby Point Deception, immediately stirring up old feelings of fear and suspicion. Relentless in pursuing his story, and haunted by a tragedy in his own past, Newberry does not let up, instilling fear in the town's sheriff, Rhoda Swift, who fears his prying will destroy her town. But as more women die and public panic sets in, Newberry and Swift form an uneasy alliance and unite in a confrontation with a killer whose motives are not as random as they seem.
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A hard, four-hour drive north of San Francisco leads to sparsely populated Soledad County, a combination of spectacular seashore, inland forests, and small towns steeped in gold-mining history. One of those towns is Cyanide Wells, now an artsy community, whose name comes from the miners' use of cyanide to refine ore and the time the area's water supply was tragically poisoned. To Matthew Lindstrom, that sinister legacy is ironically appropriate for the place he finally expects to find his ex-wife, Gwen.
An out-of-state corporation wants to pump the river nearly dry and float the water to southern California's thirsty cities in huge rubber rafts. With lobbyists, lawyers, and dirty tricks, the company intends to get what it wants - any way it can. Against this corporate Goliath, a community protest group and four unusual individuals are drawing a line in the sand.