After years of seeming to be at sea, Benjamin Hanson returns to his childhood home in Wisconsin in 2008 when his parents ask him to ready his deceased uncle’s property for sale. A former burnout and convict, Ben has no money or prospects, and his only marketable skills are his knacks for standardized-test taking and puzzle making. Ben clearly is still devastated by the death of his geologist older cousin Wayne at the family cabin on the Bright River 12 winters earlier. While prepping his uncle’s home Ben finds Wayne’s old school stuff, including a nonsensical poem resembling a puzzle that turns Wayne’s demise into an inscrutable riddle Ben wants to solve. In a second narrative thread, Somerville introduces Lauren, a quick-witted and assiduous doctor who worked at a refugee camp until it was attacked by guerrillas and then at a clinic in Zurich until her marriage ended traumatically. Ben and Lauren, who went to high school together, weren’t friends. But after some fortuitous meetings in town and a seemingly accidental encounter with a menacing man in Madison, Lauren reveals her past—and a long sequence of nightmarish secrets—to Ben.