When her good friend Virginia Hayward's father passes away, Hattie Davish rushes to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. She's looking forward to visiting the place where she grew up, even if the circumstances bringing her there are bleak. But upon her arrival, she learns that all is not well in St. Joe. Virginia is cold and distant, Frank Hayward's death is shrouded in mystery, and a string of troubling incidents have descended on Hattie's alma mater, Mrs. Chaplin's School for Women. Frank was the school's bookkeeper, and as Hattie begins investigating the bizarre goings-on, she becomes convinced that someone other than Frank was in the casket--but who? Her search for the truth takes her from the town cemetery, to the home of an infamous outlaw, to the dungeon-like tunnels beneath the State Lunatic Asylum--and brings her face-to-face with a killer bent on the deadliest lesson of all.