Wilson Bledsoe, an eminent black professor at Dartmouth College, has already brought prestige to his campus. When he wins another important science award, there is a celebration, but Bledsoe is anxious to leave the party and return home. And he wants to finish up his research that night, as he is on the verge of a critical discovery. A good Samaritan, Bledsoe stops to assist two men stranded on the roadside. He is never seen alive again.
When his body is finally recovered, the police assume Dr. Bledsoe is the victim of a hate crime, because the N-word is crudely gouged into his chest. They quickly arrest two suspects, men who belong to a local militia, the White Liberation Army. But by that time Bledsoe's younger brother, FBI Agent Sterling Bledsoe, has arrived at the scene, and he's not accepting any facile answers.
Sterling is a methodical man, maybe as detail-oriented as his deceased older brother. Solving this crime has been too easy, so Sterling depends on his own skills and FBI resources to look deeper into the murder. When he discovers that Wilson was involved in cutting-edge research, Sterling searches for evidence in Wilson's lab and office, sure he will uncover something, some clue.
Admittedly, race issues may simmer below the surface in this college town, but Bledsoe believes the attempt to brand this a racially-motivated murder is disingenuous. Someone is hiding something. Maintaining a low profile, Sterling quietly investigates, careful because he isn't sure who to trust. Finally, there is a lead when an obscure image of a man is found on a surveillance camera, and Bledsoe has the film sent to the FBI lab for verification.
Following his own cardinal rule - trust no one - Sterling is in a conundrum, unsure where to turn next. Running on pure instinct, in danger himself the closer he gets to the motive behind his brotherís death, Sterling senses the connection between the murder and the riddle of the blackbirds Wilson was studying.
The violent crime reawakens Sterling's childhood resentments and the uncomfortable sibling rivalry of their past; he struggles to keep it all in perspective, but is unable to shake the shadow of his brilliant brother and consequent feelings of inadequacy. Sterling has carried considerable emotional baggage all these years, always in competition with his older brother. Weighing these personal memories, Agent Bledsoe integrates his perceptions with the reality of his brotherís life and his impact on the world at large. Inadvertently, Sterling realizes just how much he has in common with the brother he resented for all these years, at last able to release old resentments and appreciate the qualities they shared.
The fast-paced, nowhere-to-run scenario at the end ties up a series of loose ends, revealing unexpected alliances and shocking betrayals. Sterling Bledsoe is established as a welcome new character on the mystery/suspense scene.