If there's one thing mystery novelist Maggie Dufrane knows, it's this: Laughter through tears is the Southern way. At least that's what her spitfire mama, aka the Mississippi queen of drama, says. But now the indomitable matriarch is ailing. And reliable Maggie-the-family-chauffeur is moving back in to fix things...again.
Nobody in the family talks about Ellen's grandmother Lola, who was swallowed up by the circus and emerged as a woman who tamed tigers and got away scot-free for killing her husband. When Ellen's husband Wayne beats her nearly to death, she runs to the only place she knows where a woman can completely disappear - the same Big Top that once sheltered her grandmother. Though the circus moves from one town to the next, Wayne tracks it, and Ellen, relentlessly.