New York Law School professor Robert Blecker is one of America's most impassioned crusaders for capital punishment. During a 2005 research trip to Riverbend Maximum Security prison, Blecker meets Daryl Holton, a man who in 1997 murdered his four children in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Blecker discovers to his shock that not only does Holton possess a keen legal mind and a wry sense of humor, but that he has declined to file his permitted appeals and seems to invite his own execution with a mixture of calm and even courage. The two men discover a strange philosophical kinship. Over the next year and a half they explore the meaning of mercy, justice, and the morality of the death penalty.