Dagny Taggart Jamison is a private investigator working for her brother's P.I. firm in Santa Barbara, California, where she meets Lucy Navarro.
Lucy is a graduate student in anthropology who studies the Churok Native American culture. She comes home to find her roommate and best friend, Judy Raskin, hanging from the light fixture in her bedroom. Judy's professor had rejected her doctoral dissertation that day, and everybody thinks her death is a suicide. But Lucy is sure it is murder.
Hot on the trail of Judy's ex-boyfriend, who has fled, Dagny and Lucy find him hanged in a lonely dell in the redwood forest that surrounds the University of California at Santa Cruz. Again, suicide appears to be the plausible explanation.
Dagny's dogged investigation reveals that the two dead students had entered into a partnership with two cultists and a high-ranking Churok Indian shaman to reopen a defunct gold mine on the Churok Indian reservation. Now, armed with a motive for murder, Dagny presses ahead.