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Since becoming an unlikely millionaire and quitting the St. Paul Police Department, Rushmore McKenzie has been working as an unlicensed private investigator, basically doing favors for friends and people in need. But even for him, this latest job is unusual. He's been asked to find a stolen Stradivarius, known as the Countess Borromeo, that only the violinist seems to want him to find.
Stolen from a locked room in a B&B in the violinist's former hometown of Bayfield, Wisconsin, the violin is valued at $4 million and is virtually irreplaceable. But the foundation that owns it and their insurance company refuses to think about buying it back from the thief (or thieves.) However, Paul Duclos, the violinist who has played it for the past twelve years, is desperate to get it back and will pay out of his own pocket to get it back.
Though it's not his usual sort of case, McKenzie is intrigued and decides to try and help, which means going against the local police, the insurance company, the FBI's Art Crime division, and his own lawyer's advice. And, as he quickly learns, there's a lot more going on than the mere theft of a priceless instrument.
During one of the first heavy snows of the winter, on the Interstate outside the Twin Cities, Rushmore McKenzie is behind a truck behaving erratically when the man in the truck bed dumps a body out onto the road, right in front of McKenzie's car. McKenzie avoids hitting the body, a bound woman who is just barely alive, but his stopped car in the middle of the road starts a chain of accidents, resulting in a thirty-seven car pile-up. By the time the time the police arrive, and the EMTs and ambulances have taken care of the immediate injuries, the truck is long gone.
The injured woman awakens with no memories--not of the accident, not of anything--and is labeled by the police as Unidentified Woman #15. With few leads, the detective in charge, McKenzie's former partner and old friend Bobby Dunston, turns to McKenzie for a favor. Now McKenzie has to try to identify the grievously injured woman, find out who tied her up and dumped on the freeway to die. And why.