The narrative alternates between three time periods: 1980, 1990, and 2015. In 1980, Will and Julie Purcell tell their father they are going to a playground to meet a friend, but do not return. Detective Wayne Hays and his partner Roland West organize a search. Hays is a black Vietnam veteran who worked as a tracker. The Purcells' parents, Tom and Lucy, do not have a happy marriage. Hays and West search their house and find Playboy magazines under Will's mattress, and a hole in Will's closet looking into Julie's room. They learn that Lucy's cousin had previously stayed in Will's room while Will slept on the couch. Hays meets Will's English teacher, Amelia Reardon. Using his tracking skills, he finds Will's body in a cave, with his fingers interlinked as if in prayer.