Eleventh-century Japan: After a difficult but successful assignment as provisional governor of Eichigo, Akitada Sugawara is finally allowed to return to Heian Kyo. But instead of a triumphant homecoming accompanied by his beautiful wife and young son, Akitada must ride ahead of his entourage to the sickbed of his dying mother. Fading light and a steady downpour interrupt his journey, forcing him to take refuge in a temple where a brilliantly illustrated hell screen and a piercing cry disturb his restless sleep.
Upon his arrival, Akitada finds his mother, sick and bitter, cursing his return, while his youngest sister, Yoshiko, forsakes her own happiness to serve as the old woman’s nurse and maid. Only his sister Akiko seems fortunate—married to a wealthy nobleman, Toshikage, and expecting their first child. But appearances prove to be deceptive, for it is not long before Akitada is asked to help clear his brother-in-law’s name. In the course of his investigation Akitada learns that his night at the temple was disturbed by more than a terrible scream. A woman has been murdered, and because of his reputation for detective work, Akitada must solve another mystery. Personal and professional interests begin to merge as Akitada becomes ensnared in a tangled web of deceit and malevolence that will, in the end, strike very close to home.