As the 19th century winds to a close, Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman of the small Pennsylvania town of Arahpot ponders his biggest problems: finding a new deputy and convincing his true love, Lydia, to marry him. But an early autumn day finds Arahpot’s usual tranquility shaken when a stranger is fatally stabbed. Upon seeing the victim, Tilghman recalls witnessing a strained encounter between him and Valentine Deibert, an obese man with a wife half his age who had recently moved to Arahpot. The sheriff questions Deibert who denies knowing the victim. Tilgman is unconvinced, but lacks a connection until the widow arrives in Arahpot. Suddenly Sylvester is plunged into investigating two murders. As he works through an abundance of motivated suspects, Tilghman finds himself in danger. And worse -- Lydia is pushing her obnoxious cousin as a candidate for deputy.