'Death by self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head' is the on-scene assessment, but the victim's relatives are adamant in their rejection of suicide as an explanation. Discovered in a closet, a full week after death, the body is barely recognisable. Extreme heat has accelerated decomposition, and Dr Temperance Brennan's forensic expertise is required. Advanced putrefaction, and the scavenging of starving cats have made it virtually impossible to determine the trajectory of the bullet. But just as Tempe is attempting to make sense of the fracture patterning, an unknown man slips her a photograph of a skeleton, telling her it holds the answer to the man's death-Detective Andrew Ryan is also on the case and, as his relationship with Tempe heats up, together they try to figure out who this orthodox Jew in the Israeli 'import business' really was. Was he involved in the black market trade in antiquities? And whose is the skeleton in the photo? With the help of Jacob Drum, a biblical archaeologist and old friend from the University of North Carolina, Tempe follows the trail of clues all the way to Israel.
In the Holy Land, she learns of a strange ossuary at Masada, a shroud, and a tomb that may have held the remains of Jesus' family. But the further she probes into the identity of the ancient skeleton, the more she seems to be putting herself in danger.