Leyden's richest man, biggest employer, largest philanthropist, and the sheriff's most important reelection campaign contributor, Stephen Harkness, is found dead in a remote, snow covered garage. Lt. Thomas Shard quickly discovers almost everyone in town wished they had killed him or was glad to see him gone.
Shard, Periwinkle, and Johnsen spend long days trying to get Harkness's wife, son, and mistress to tell them anything but lies. Shard discovers Harkness's paper mill keeps two sets of books, may be for sale which would eliminate hundreds of jobs, and has serious labor problems.
The mystery is soon confounded by the arrival of an armed female PI pool hustler and Johnsen's saga stories about Freydis and Thorvard and later Gunnar-Half-and-Half, just before someone celebrates the New Year by shooting windows out of suspects' houses and slashing their tires. In the midst of it all Shard has a New Year's Eve date and no reservation.
Just as Shard, with the help of Freydis and Thorvard, figures out who must have killed Harkness, the case climaxes with a shootout in a raging snowstorm in front of the very garage where Harkness was killed. Shard, the PI and her sidekick, the mistress, two cops, and the woodsman caretaker, poacher, distiller, and his dog fight it out. Periwinkle and Johnsen, however, who weren't there, are reported dead. It is Shard's longest night.