The story takes place in Aurora, Minnesota, during the winter. There are more people traveling by skis and snowmobiles than by cars.
Judge Robert Parrent is found dead, a possible suicide. The newspaper boy, Paul LeBeau, is missing. Paul's papers were delivered to each home on his route, up to the Judge's.
Cork O'Connor, once a cop in Chicago, and former sheriff, feels compelled to take action when there's need to solve a crime.
He's undergoing a time of turmoil. His wife, Jo, wants a divorce and he's separated from his children. Painful indeed, the separation is just as the Christmas season is upon him. He takes emotional refuge with Molly Nurmi, a kindly waitress at the local coffee shop.
One wintry day, he gives a ride to an old Indian wise man, Henry Meloux, who tells him that the Windigo has called Harlan Lytton's name. This is a legend where a spiritual being "...with the heart of ice." will take a person's life. When Cork goes to Lytton's home to warn him, he's attacked by Lytton's guard dog and is forced to kill it. Not long after, Lytton is found murdered and the reader learns that he has been spying on the residents and something more.
Cork doesn't believe that the Judge committed suicide. He thinks that the Judge had something that the killer was after. Cork also learns things about his own family that shake his well being.
Despite these personal issues, he continues the investigation while pondering his own faith and his relationship with his family.
This is a fine debut novel that won the Anthony and Barry Awards for best first novel. The author has talent for writing a captivating story full of memorable characters, set in the frozen Minnesota countryside. With his use of Indian folk lore, he places himself as a successor to the legendary Tony Hillerman.