Summary: Chapter 1
The novel opens in a courtroom on San Piedro Island in the Puget Sound region of Washington. The date is December 6, 1954. Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman, is on trial for the murder of another local fisherman, a white man named Carl Heine. Kabuo sits in the courtroom, proud and silent, while the court prepares to hear the case. Asnowstorm is brewing outside. Inside, jurors, lawyers, reporters, and the public gather for the trial. Among the reporters is Ishmael Chambers, the editor of the local paper and a veteran of World War II. Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue, is also in the courtroom. Ishmael had tried to speak with Hatsue before the trial. But Hatsue, for reasons not yet clear, told Ishmael to go away.
Summary: Chapter 2
Inthe courtroom, Alvin Hooks, the prosecuting attorney, questions the local sheriff, Art Moran. Art testifies that Carl Heine’s boat, the Susan Marie, was found adrift on the morning of September 16,1954. Upon boarding the boat and investigating the scene, Art and his deputy, Abel Martinson, found Carl’s body trapped in the boat’s fishing net underwater. When Art and Abel pulled Carl—a well-built,quiet, and respected fisherman—up into the boat, they discovered an odd wound on his head. The wound later led Art to suspect foul play.
Summary: Chapter 3
During cross-examination, Kabuo’s defense attorney, Nels Gudmundsson, questions the sheriff about the contents of Carl’s boat. Of particular interest is a dead engine battery that was found on the boat. The type of battery is different fromthe type that Carl normally used to power his boat but it matches the type of battery that Kabuo used on his boat. The elderly Nels, whose failing health has left him frail, raises the possibility that Carl may have fallen out of his boat by accident while he was changing the engine battery.
Summary: Chapter 4
Judge Lew Fielding calls a brief recess in the trial. As the courtroom empties, Ishmaelmoves from the reporters’ table to a less conspicuous seat in the gallery, where he reflects on the death of Carl, whom he has known since childhood. Ishmael also muses on his own past: the loss of his arm in World War II, his later stint attending college in Seattle, and his decision to return to San Piedro to follow in the footsteps of his father, Arthur Chambers. Arthur, we learn, foundedthe San Piedro Review after working in the logging business and fighting in World War I. As the editor of the newspaper, Arthur was careful to print only what was true and accurate. Ishmael, though more sullen and cynical than his father, strives to do the same.
The narrative then flashes back to the day following Carl’s death. Art Moran is down at the docks, talking with local fishermen about who andwhat they saw while out on their rounds the previous night. Ishmael approaches the group to ask questions for the story he will print in the newspaper. The fishermen bristle at Ishmael’s presence, mistrustful of him because he earns his living with words rather than with his hands. Art is not pleased to see Ishmael either, fearing that he will spread rumors of murder in his newspaper. Ishmaelagrees not to characterize Carl’s death as a murder on the condition that Art keep him up to date as the investigation goes forward.
Summary: Chapter 5
The narrative now moves to the office of the local coroner, Horace Whaley, who is also a practicing physician. Horace was unnerved by the experience of losing soldiers under his care in World War II. Horace considers himself a weakling and afailure, and he envies Carl Heine’s strong, well-built body as he examines Carl’s corpse. He even notices that Carl’s penis is twice the size of his own.
Examining the body, Horace discovers a foamy mixture of air, mucus, and seawater that suggests that Carl died from drowning. He later notices a deep wound on Carl’s head. Horace notes that the wound resembles wounds he saw during the war, on...