Set in Louisiana on the Marshall Plantation, the novel starts out just a few days after the Cajun work boss of the plantation was murdered. Candy, the partial overseer of the plantation, believes that Mathu killed him, because his body was found just outside of Mathu's house.
Candy gathers everyone together at Mathu's house, so that he can make his accusation. When the mistress Miss Merle arrives at the scene, Candy flusters and says that he was the one that committed the murder. Miss Merle does not believe him, but agrees to help in the investigation.
About eighteen men gather at Mathu's house, all of which are older. They have brought their shotguns, and are willing to confess to the murder. Why is this? No one really knows for the time being. Awaiting the arrival of the sheriff and the Cajun named Fix, who led many African American uprising, the group is anxious.
The Sheriff arrives, and finds that all of the men are, indeed, confessing to the murder. Obviously, this is not possible, but he finds it to be so. He takes each of them aside of questioning, and slaps them in the face when he is unhappy with their answers. He even slaps the reverend in the face. So much for a kind and honest sheriff.
The Sheriff makes his decision - the killer is Mathu, because he is African American and stands up to white men. However, when everyone is confessing to the murder, it would be impossible for him to arrest everyone. He tries to get them to stop confessing, but they will not.
Mathu confesses now that he did it, and is taken to jail. But, before he is imprisoned, another man named Charlie comes to the scene. He says that he was the real one that committed the murder, and told Mathu to take the blame while he ran away. The sheriff agrees to take Charlie away instead because he is also black.
Charlie is then shot by Luke Will, and a trial awaits the murder.