Set in the town of Bolton, South Dakota, Reacher begins his latest adventure on a wrecked senior citizen tour bus after a near-miss with another motorist leaves the bus spinning on the icy road and trapped in a snowy bank. Immersed in a snowy, frozen landscape, Reacher works with local law enforcement to help the fragile victims.
Hours later, Reacher learns Bolton is not like most towns. Beside its freezing, snowy climate, the town plays host to one of the largest prisons in the US, making the town and its law enforcement subject to the needs and demands of the gigantic correctional facility. At the same time, a band of outlaw bikers, settled outside the town, are on edge after their leader is arrested on drug charges. As the biker awaits trial the top priority then becomes protecting Janet Salter, the only voluntary, reliable witness to the biker's drug transaction, and Reacher agrees to aid local law enforcement in keeping her alive.
Throughout the story brutal enemies, both foreign and domestic, are encountered. The criminal mastermind from Mexico is nicknamed Plato. He dispatches an anonymous assassin to Bolton who murders anyone he suspects of knowing anything and whose ultimate target is of course Janet Salter. Reacher enlists the help of one of his successors, Major Susan Turner, the current leader of the elite 110th Special Investigations Unit (Reacher's old command), and in the process he is compelled to divulge interesting new details of his personal and professional history.
The novel's climax leaves the question of Reacher's survival open to reader speculation.