Lake Tahoe lawyer and single mom Nina Reilly is desperate for new clients when one drops into her lap—a sulky and rebellious 16-year-old girl named Nikki who is arrested for the murder of her wealthy uncle. Nikki is a friend of Nina’s son Bob, who is determined that his mother prove Nina’s innocence at all cost. Nikki had been skulking on her uncle’s wealthy property the night he was killed, stole something from his underwater hiding place, and left a bloody handprint on the wall outside the study where he was killed with his own prized samurai sword. She also may have seen the actual killer, but isn’t telling Nina anything.
Complicating the plot is the fact that the uncle’s teenaged son was killed in a private plane crash the same night as the murder, and while Nina is convinced the deaths are linked, she has no evidence. She calls on investigator Paul Waggoner to help with the case, but Paul is still very much in love with Nina and trying to keep clear of her while he nurses his broken heart. He nonetheless reluctantly agrees to her plea for help. He concentrates his efforts on proving the airplane crash was no accident, but the evidence—if any—lies in the scattered plane parts being held under lock and key by the authorities.
The prosecution has laboratory evidence that along with all the uncle’s blood, there is also a spot of blood on the murder weapon which contains a rare factor that Nikki has in her own blood, and is thus determined to have Nikki tried as an adult. Nonetheless, if we choose to believe in Nikki’s innocence, there are any number of suspects we can hone in, among them aggrieved victims of the uncle’s medical malpractice, the partner in the uncle’s surgical clinic, Nikki’s mother Daria who had just as much reason to hate the her brother-in-law as Nikki, even the uncle’s wife Beth, who reportedly didn’t have the best marriage with the victim.
This is a complicated who-done-it with insufficient evidence and a surfeit of suspects, an awkward and tense relationship between our heroine and her erstwhile lover Paul, a pair of intriguing mother-child relationships (Daria and Nikki, Nina and Bob), both with missing fathers, and a lot of pain and suffering on all sides. There are lots of surprise twists, to be sure, although the ending is melodramatic in the extreme. Neither O’Shaughnessy’s best nor worst.