When a block of coal the size of a stove shoots out of the wall, miner Amos Blevins barely has time to react before the entire area is flooded with water. He frantically tries to rescue his crewmates, but in an underground space that is pitch black and too cramped to even stand up, he can barely crawl to safety himself. Inspector Will Murphy is sent to investigate, ordered by his superiors to clear things up quickly so the mine can reopen. After all, if the mine closes, then miners lose their jobs, and so do mine inspectors.
It seems to be a straight forward accident, but Will senses something suspicious about this case—or maybe he's just lashing out at his older brother, who has usurped his place as heir to the largest mining company in Eastern Kentucky and owner of the flooded mine—but Will has decided he won't let this one go, whatever it might cost him.
Before he can get far, Will's witnesses start turning up dead. And Amos, who refuses to follow his boss's orders to lie to Will about conditions in the mine, finds the little he has threatened. Together, these two men will learn that in the mines, life, family, money, and power all come from one thing—coal.
Drawing on his four years of reporting on the coal mines of Kentucky, Harris has painted a vivid portrait of rural Appalachia, beautifully capturing the place and culture of the mining community while weaving a complex and taut story of murder and corruption.