Even though it's cost him his wife and his job on the Charlotte police force, you'd think Barry Clayton's reluctant return home to Gainesboro to take over the family funeral parlor from his Alzheimers-stricken father would at least give him a little peace of mind. Not exactly, Barry finds when Matriarch Martha Willard's obsequies are interrupted by her grandson Dallas, who shouts, "Tell Grandma I'll save the land," before emptying his shotgun into his brother Lee, his sister Norma Jean, and Barry himself, chalking up two fatalities and one thoroughly dismayed mortician. Before any of the even more heavily burdened mourners can stop him, Dallas skedaddles, vanishing into the North Carolina hills he's known since he was a child. Attempting to track him, Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkins, accompanied of course by the wounded Barry, is too late to stem a growing list of casualties, from snakebite victim Jimmy Coleman (eight) to sometime casketmaker Travis (Fats) McCauley. The work of a paranoid schizophrenic, Tommy Lee sorrowfully tells his friend, unaware that Dallas is already dead, sunk beneath a quarry pond with several barrels of chemical waste whose disposal would be a crime all by itself even if they weren't accompanied by a corpse. Just what does this rash of homicides have to do with Martha Willard's last will and testament and Ridgemont Power & Electric's designs on the Pisgah Paper Mill land parcel?
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