The novel revolves around three 1991 murders for which Rommy Gandolph was convicted. It begins with attorney Arthur Raven being assigned to handle the final appeal of said death row inmate. Though the lawyer does not even want the case, he discovers some problems with the conviction. Unlikely allies are found, including the police officer who made the arrest and the judge who presided over the initial trial. It becomes a race against the clock to determine the truth. The novel's 42 chapters are arranged in two parts, titled Investigation and Proceedings; the action is set in 2001.
Many of the minor characters also appear in Turow's other novels, which are all set in fictional Midwestern Kindle County.