The small town of Red Paint, "the friendliest town in Maine," is a haven of respectability. All the residents know one another; life is simple and uneventful, crime is nearly nonexistent, and the weekly newspaper struggles to fill the front page of each issue with fresh information. Editor Simon Howe and his psychologist wife, Amy, share a son: eight-year-old Davey. The only exciting event on the horizon is Simon's upcoming twenty-fifth year high school reunion. Simon has no complaints other than Amy's occasional habit of slipping into therapist mode when addressing family problems. On the whole, their lives have taken on the familiar rhythm of domestic harmony. Their biggest trial is handling a rambunctious son who tests boundaries regularly.
When Simon begins receiving anonymous postcards with cryptic messages, he fails to register concern and barely musters up curiosity about the intentions of the sender. But his lack of interest quickly dissipates when the missives become more explicit, even vaguely threatening. Although the novel begins with Simon's reflections on his life and choices in the place of his birth, the introduction of a stranger—Paul Chambers, author of the mysterious postcards—introduces another perspective, one shaped by the suicide of a wife who was from the same high school as Simon, was in fact Simon's prom date.
The placid surface of small-town life is shattered, though just for Simon and Amy, who intuit the as-yet undefined menace coming their way but are helpless to understand who might wish them harm, or why. They assume a threat to the family, anxious and guarded in their activities. With a Hitchcockian twist, Harrar creates a drama invisible to all but Simon, Amy and their tormentor, a stranger strolling casually among townsfolk, unrecognizable but with a devious plan to address what he believes to be a grievous wrong. Simon is at the center of the storm and who is called to atone for something he cannot recall, the consequences of a young man's impetuous choices begetting actions that can destroy the life he has built.
Forced by circumstances to come to terms with his past and to deal with the relentless assault of a stranger bent on revenge, Simon does so only in his own way and after much soul-searching, a process that is both painful and humiliating. Caught in the clever web of a man skilled in the art of manipulation, Simon resists the manner of his denouement until he is able to determine his own path to redemption, one befitting the man he has become, the father he wants to model for his son. The author's insight into this struggle is perceptive and emotionally layered, Simon's flaws blown out of proportion under the microscope of his wife's judgment. But it is the setting, the easy, low-key environment of life in Red Paint that seduces the reader, the hypnotizing prose of a storyteller revealing the fragility of what a man holds dear.