Main character Amanda Rivers is accustomed to murder. As a reporter in Washington, D.C., she covered many crime scenes, but none as gruesome as the one she has been assigned to cover in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for her new job at the Asheville Chronicle.
Cole Whitman, veteran park ranger, knows the Great Smokies well, including the mystical lore and legends of the Cherokee Indians whose reservation is in his jurisdiction. When a fisherman is viciously attacked and killed along the Oconalufte River near the Smokemount Campgrounds, Cole is assigned to investigate the crime. Claw marks in the eviscerated body lead rangers to suspect the deed is the act of a lone black bear, and all are directed to hunt it down.
In search of a thrilling story, Amanda finds herself accompanying Cole into the remote areas of the laurel-thickened Smokies, hoping to witness his capture of the elusive perpetrator — whose characteristics in attacking its victim strongly resemble those of Judacalla, the mythical Cherokee ghost bear.
Further incidences occur: missing hikers, a similar attack in Graveyard Fields, the murder of Cole’s partner Nic near Little River. As Amanda’s friendship with Cole evolves, she finds herself questioning changes in Cole’s personality and actions.
When no progress is made in explaining the deaths, the FBI joins in the hunt and the Cherokee people find themselves suspects as their reservation, the park and the Blue Ridge Parkway is sealed off to tourists. Amanda becomes further engrossed in understanding Cole’s role in the elevating tension, and, as she discovers long-buried information, leads rangers and FBI to what becomes a surprising climax at Devil’s Courthouse and the end of the killings.
A page-turner, the book boasts great descriptions of Western N.C.‘s Smokies, insight into the Cherokee life and an unexpected ending.