When a popular University of Wisconsin athlete is discovered drowned after a night of drinking, the victim’s sister engages Josh Pratt, a former bad biker who found God in prison and came out a better man, to get to the bottom of it. Now a private investigator, Josh uncovers a pattern of big men on campuses being murdered beneath a freshly painted smiley face mural. He also finds the love of his life in his client, the UW athlete’s sister “Fig” Newton. Like previous loves in Josh’s life, the connection proves dangerous—for her.
Josh’s investigation takes him to Milwaukee and an encounter with Jerell Moore, leader of Blackstone Nation. The two have little in common except a violent background and an admiration of “Shred Husl,” the drug-dealing hero of a 1970s fiction series by the pseudonymous author Curtis Mack, whose novels point to a “smiley face” connection. Turns out the man behind the fiction got his start on what is now the haunted ruins of a commune in rural Wisconsin and went on to become a prominent professor and preacher of social justice, intent on punishing white privilege. Josh must deploy a combination of his street smarts and connections in high places to trap him.