Newark, New Jersey, is a city rife with the usual problems of modern-day society: guns, drugs, gangs, police versus community, TV preachers railing against evil, and the hustle and bustle of the Newark Eagle-Examiner newsroom at deadline. Carter Ross is alerted to the death of Detective Sergeant Darius Kipps of the 4th Precinct and dispatched to the slain man's home to interview the widow before the competition arrives. Strangely, there are no other vehicles around the residence, no news vans or patrol cars.
It appears the widow has no idea of the cause of death, has been informed only that her husband is dead. Just as Carter establishes the necessary rapport to write a profile of the fallen officer, official word comes from the 4th Precinct that the death was a suicide. Since the paper has a policy of not covering suicides, his editor pulls Ross off the story. Carter accepts the decision, though he remains suspicious that this is a big story. Not one to give up easily, he pursues the details on his own. During an "after hours" visit with a bizarre ensemble of friends to the coroner's office, he discovers that there is incontrovertible evidence of a cover-up. Now Carter is determined to find out why the 4th Precinct has chosen to call Kipps's death a suicide when he knows otherwise.
This is Newark, city of secrets and back-door deals, the smooth-talking Carter at ease in his hometown neighborhoods, black or white. He touches base with his contacts from locals to an insider at Internal Affairs, networking with sources and cajoling officials to answer questions off the record. Returning to interview the widow, he is confronted by a reluctant Mrs. Kipps, who refuses to open the door at the behest of her fire-breathing TV minister. The minister has convinced her that Carter is an agent of the devil.
A second officer turns up dead, the sometime-partner of Kipps. When this one is also labeled a suicide, Carter knows this is a story he has to write. His most valuable information comes from the owners of a merchandise warehouse, two elderly brothers who know literally everyone in New Jersey who matters, a clandestine visit with the coroner, and a rendezvous with neighborhood gangbangers. What the journalist fails to realize—until he is shot at—is that he has become the target of a key criminal enterprise, one that his investigation into the two suspicious deaths has jeopardized. Even Carter's banter and sense of humor can't save him and an innocent intern from the consequences of their impulsive plan to break open the shocking story behind it all: "It was a business model based on a fear that fed itself."
Parks captures the beating heart of the modern city in all its complexities, from the 4th Precinct's blue wall of silence to the inner workings of a daily newspaper, streets teeming with schemes and contacts, drugs, gangs and a network of usable contacts. This might be a bleak scene of murder and corruption were it not for the entertaining riffs that accompany Carter's every activity. The parallel plot that finally intersects with his sleuthing reveals how easily power can be abused, his cleverness of little use when facing the wrong end of a gun. The result is a fast-paced series of encounters that veer from the ridiculous and embarrassing to the dangerous in a convoluted trail that yields a powerful front page story—if will live to write it.