Ellis Portal's old street friend, Queenie tells him of a friend who seemingly has frozen to death in the harsh winter weather before Christmas. Queenie regards the death as suspicious. Ellis remains unconvinced until a second and then a third person die and he realizes all were court "groupies," people who appeared in court every day to watch the proceedings for a mixture of reasons. Each was found with a verse from the Bible in his or her possession-similar to threatening Bible verses that Ellis himself suddenly begins to receive.

"A character with great dignity and unusual moral depth."
Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

"I tore open the letter. It was a blank white sheet except for a single sentence in that bold but unsteady script. 'The Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.' Of course I recognized the quotation from the Bible, though I couldn't have said which book or chapter or verse. I recognized, too, that like the advancing winter taking the country field by field, city by city, the quotation was clearly something more than it might initially appear to be. It was a death threat. A judge gets as good at smelling threats as a naturalist at smelling snow."