While on her way to a speaking engagement on her work, anthropologist Temperance Brennan, is called into help with a plane crash that claimed the lives of a number of people. She finds out that a large number of flyers were on a university sports team, and fears momentarily that her daughter may be among the dead.
Tempe spends her days, from sun up to sun down, cataloging and assisting with the identification of the victims of the plane crash. On a break once day after a particularly gruesome find, she goes to take a breather and comes across a group of coyotes with a severed foot as their meal. She realizes pretty quickly on that the leg belongs to an elderly man, who wasn’t on the flight that crashed.
She goes back the next day and stumbles across a small cabin, which is seemingly abandoned. She does a little snooping, and figures out that the foot likely came from the cabin.
For some reason, Tempe is taken off the recovery after some complaints are made about her. Though, she hasn’t done anything wrong and has followed procedures since she stepped foot onto the crash site. She continues to look into the foot, though she continues to meet resistance from everyone but the local Sheriff.
As the DMORT team slowly identifies all of the flyers, and slowly figure out what brought the plane down, Tempe’s professional career is brought over hot coals because of the complaints becoming public. She works on identifying the foot, and uncovers a group of cannibals that have been murdering for years.
By the end of the book, Temperance joins the mourners for one of the bodies that she identifies and is completely exonerated of any of the false charges brought on her. She also makes a decision about her romantic life, though things are left in limbo for readers.