Dr. Vera Chaney is a widow. Her husband, Elton, was one of the last soldiers killed in Iraq. She is left to manage the family farm in Yazoo County, Mississippi. As a young, black doctor in a rural county, her life is demanding and stressful. And now she is alone. Her two children, Ann, 7, and Roscoe, 5, react differently to their father's death. Ann shows strength. Roscoe retreats into a world Vera can not penetrate.
In desperation, she asks for help from an unlikely source. Her father, Robert Lee Whitfield, has recently been released from Parchman Prison. He served over twenty-eight years for killing Billy Ray Starnes, a reprehensible red neck hated by everyone, in the parking lot of a grocery store on a clear Friday afternoon. Vera was a child then and lived with her maternal grandmother. Her mother had left the State and Robert Lee lived on a farm near the grandmother's place and was trying to be a father and make a honorable living farming. Robert Lee admitted his guilt and expressed no remorse. But Vera remembers good things about her father and takes a chance on him.
Vera writes a letter to her father and takes it to Memphis and turns it over to Ethan Cheatham. Cheatham is a young private detective. He lives above a law office on Front Street and does work for the two lawyers who own the building. He has drifted some in his young life. From graduation at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi to Perdido Key, Florida, and a career as a fishing guide, to Memphis and a short stint as a Memphis Policeman. He drinks some and spends a lot of his nights on his dark porch watching the traffic on the Mississippi River.
Ethan is described as looking more like a guitar player in Jimmy Buffet's band than a private detective. But he comes highly recommended and Vera takes a chance on him. She delivers the letter to Cheatham and asks him to find her father, who has disappeared after being granted clemency by the Governor. Ethan takes the case and his investigation leads him to Nora Deen Barksdale, an aging beauty queen, Dump Warren, a former star football player for Ole Miss, Essie Beard, a young black social worker at Parchman and eventually to San Diego, California.
Ethan finds Robert Lee Whitfield and delivers the letter. Robert Lee must make a decision that impacts many lives. But what direction will he choose?
A Broken Circle is a story of loss, quests, redemption, and of relationships between blacks and whites in America today