Michael Archer, a social worker from Murphy, North Carolina, leads a humdrum life counseling pregnant teenagers and battered wives and sweeping up the fragments of a sad assortment of shattered lives. One day his boss gets a request for Michael’s interviewing skills. A drug company in Atlanta has come up with a cure for Alzheimer’s and it’s gonna seriously impact the lives of a redneck contingent of Michael’s clients. I mean, how would you like it if a bunch of strangers from the Big City set up shop next door to your own personal still?
Michael agrees to give the primitive populace of Lucas Ridge a chance to air their opinions. Meanwhile, the drug company sends a real estate wheeler-dealer in to buy up land on the cheap. The broker ends up in over his head, literally. His water-logged body, snugly wrapped in a sleeping bag duct-taped to his scrawny neck, is found in the passenger seat of his Ford Mustang at the bottom of a mosquito-infested swamp.
Upon his arrival in Lucas Ridge Michael meets a family of Northerners from Newark who scurried south when the patriarch’s plans to distribute recreational pharmaceuticals were cancelled by the local mob. The five adult sons are being groomed to take over the family enterprise while the two girls are being raised as bait. The eldest daughter was born with the proverbial mattress strapped to her back, but the youngest lass has a will of steel and a heart of gold. Michael falls hopelessly in love with the wily waif and soon finds himself up to his own neck in problems.
Along the way Michael finds time to debate the vagaries of Christianity with the bible-thumping Reverend Titus Hall. Unfortunately time is running out and Michael needs to recover a sheaf of documents signed by the dead agent, solve the murder and finish his job before the drug firm decides to pull the plug on the project or maybe even pull the plug on Michael.