On a chilly October morning, Barrett "Bear" Raines finds himself on the campground of Linton Loyd, one of the richest men in Florida, watching Linton clean his latest catch. Barrett does not understand why he, an African-American detective for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has been invited to the rich man's playground, but soon discovers that Linton wants something from him: Linton wants Barrett to run for county sheriff and Linton will help sponsor the campaign. Barrett doesn't know what to make of the appealing offer and decides to think about it.
The following week at work, Barrett learns of a case in which illegal immigrants are being forced to bale straw under rigged contracts and the department wants to find out just how wide spread the problem is. Barrett agrees to accompany Jarold Pearson, an old acquaintance and game warden, to the woods of Linton Loyd's straw baling company. However, the men find more than a group of scared migrant workers: in a secluded tin shack, they discover the body of a young woman pinned to the wall, almost as if she had been crucified. Based on evidence at the scene, Linton's only son becomes the prime suspect, but what does that do for Barrett's chance at sheriff?
In a setting mysterious in itself, where an ancient woman could really be the witch people call her, Barrett faces horrible crime and a solution that continually changes shape, as elusive as the strange lights that flicker in his native swamps.