The town of Lackenby, Illinois, battered by a sudden series of murders, has become an uneasy place, where no one can be sure that he or she is not the next target of the killer -- or killers -- presently running rings around local investigators. Police Chief Joe Weiss, once of the New York City Homicide Division, is stymied by the fast-paced occurrence of apparently unrelated killings. Lackenby is not accustomed to such violence. Weiss needs answers, but he isn't even sure of the questions as he calls on an old friend, Matt Shea, a behavioral sciences professor at State Line University whose career history includes extensive investigative work. Matt Shea welcomes his friend's invitation. He and Weiss get down to the business of finding a pattern, if any, to the widely diverse murders, with Weiss's hard-pressed staff as their sole back-up -- until a well-meaning group of Shea's students complicates the process even further, turning the streets of Lackenby into a shooting gallery in which they become prime targets. But the present murder wave is a phenomenon like nothing the community, the university ? or the investigators -- have experienced before. Bodies of students and non-students turn up with too great frequency, killed in too many different ways for residents to feel that there is any predictability, something that they might be able to take logical precautions against. Even as Weiss and Shea take up the battle, violent death continues to strike down apparently randomly-selected victims, sometimes practically within their view. Before any resolution is achieved, people precious to the protagonists will be put at great risk, and difficult questions will be raised about the limits of one's responsibility to anticipate and prevent the kind of crimes that have shattered the peace of this solid community. The northwest Indiana/southeast Chicago region -- once the dynamo that drove the two states' economies in high gear for the better part of a century critical to the development of the United States as a major world power -- has fallen into a devastating economic decline, largely because of the flight of the steel industry. Lackenby survives, partly because of the tenacity of the multi-hyphenated Americans who made the region thrive in the first place, and partly because of the academic reputation of Lackenby's State Line University, the most significant remaining economic stimulus to the community and its immediate neighbors on both sides of the Illinois-Indiana state line. Set in the 1980's, when the future still looked especially unpromising to the region, Degrees of Murder mixes classroom process with criminal investigative procedure, snappy dialogue with grim reality, human idealism with human criminality, in an intense three weeks that shake the core of a tough community, as experienced by a stimulating and diverse cast of characters.