When forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan joins the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team mobilized to investigate an airplane crash in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, she literally stumbles on a body part that doesn't match up with the remains of any of the plane's passengers. The leg she grabs out of the jaws of a coyote feeding on the carnage scattered around the site belongs to an unidentified elderly man, and seems to have no connection with the disaster. But an abandoned hunting lodge near the crash site does, although before Tempe can figure out exactly how they're linked, she's pulled off the DMORT unit and forced to stand idly by as her professional reputation goes up in flames. When Andrew Ryan appears on the scene, another mystery begins to unfold. There seems to be no trace of two men on the plane's manifest, Ryan's partner and his seatmate, a criminal who was being escorted back to Canada via Washington, D.C., the doomed flight's final destination, to stand trial for murder.