Mystery writer Bunny Prescott receives an envelope with no return address. It contains a photo of the body of a beautiful murdered woman—a photo Bunny has seen before. Fifty-five years ago, in 1945. Believing that her estranged childhood friend, Ceola, may have mailed it to her, Bunny writes to her: “I remember your last words to me—‘Bunny, you’re a murderer.’ To this day, I believe it. I really do.”
Alternating between Bunny’s and Ceola’s accounts, the story behind the photo unfolds during the summer of ’45. Jay Greenwood, a wounded war photographer, has returned to Royal Oak, VA, from the front in Belgium. He shows the photo to Bunny, then a twenty-year-old debutant who was madly in love with him, and Ceola, the kid sister of his lover, Robbie, who was MIA in the Pacific. Jay tells the girls that he stumbled on the corpse in the nearby woods. But when he leads them to the scene, it has vanished. They soon discover that a local woman, Lily Vellum, is missing.
The mystery of Lily Vellum casts a spell over young Ceola, echoing the salacious stories in the pulp detective magazines her missing brother read to her before her parents, fearing Robbie’s homosexual tendencies, forced him to enlist “to make a man of him.” The three investigate the murder, setting off a series of events that culminate in violence and tragedy—and decades of estrangement between the two women.
Reunited in old age, Bunny and Ceola confront each other about Jay’s fate and discover that the photo of Lily is the key to a dark secret—a secret that gives them a deeper understanding of the psychological toll the war took on the young men they loved and on themselves.