Empire Falls, Maine- once a thriving hub of industry, this small town nestles in a bend of the vast and winding Knox River, and has always been the empire of the wealthy Whiting family. Now the last Mrs Whiting presides like a black widow spider over its declining fortunes. She harbours a grudge against her employee Miles Groby, who runs the Whiting-owned Empire Grill, but hopes one day to own it himself. Miles, gentle and hopeless, has other problems- his wife has run off with his worst customer, he frets about his adored teenage daughter, and his drunken father sponges off everyone.
As the novel builds to a shocking climax, Russo constantly surprises with characters who will disarm you, a plot with as many twists and falls as the Knox River itself, and an ending that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.