The book begins with the district attorney of Cumberland County, North Carolina, Marc Sherman giving his closing arguments. He explains to the jury that the defendant, Sergeant Ellis Cooper murdered 3 women in cold blood using his knife. He then painted them in blue.
Sgt. Ellis rises from his seat and yells that he’s innocent. He never killed them or went inside their houses. He attacks the prosecutor as he yells that he’s innocent, and that the prosecutor is a liar. The prosecutor gets back up and turns to the jury and asks them to “put the monster down”.
The real killers attend the final day of the trial. Thomas Starkey, the leader and former Army Ranger Colonel, Brownley Harris and Warren Griffin, nicknamed “the kid” although he was 49. The 3 had served together in the Vietnam war. The jury reached a verdict in less than 2 ½ hours. Sgt. Cooper was sentenced to execution. Once the 3 men reach their vehicle they plan to celebrate their victory. The 3 call themselves the 3 blind mice.
At 7 am the next day, Alex Cross comes down to have breakfast with his family. Alex was resigning from the Washington DC police department, where he works as a homicide detective. Cross’ best friend and partner John Sampson comes to join them for breakfast. He tells Alex about Sgt. Cooper and asks Alex to help. Sampson says his friend is innocent and only has 3 weeks to live. Sampson tells Alex he knows Ellis as well as he knows Alex.
On the trip to North Carolina, Alex asks about Cooper. Sampson tells Alex Cooper was already a drill instructor by the time John had enlisted. He was a straight shooter and loved the discipline the army provided. John hated him at first, but they grew close when they served in Vietnam. Cooper even had stopped an officer from murdering an unarmed civilian.
Sampson shares with Cross about the army and how the army had straightened him out.
Cooper is in a prison at Raleigh, North Carolina. The 2 meet with him. Cooper tells them his story. This had happened on a Friday, which was also payday. He went to a bar and had a few drinks. He calls home to talk to his girlfriend, but she wasn't home. He drinks some more with his friends. He walks home, which is about a mile away. When he gets there he watches TV. About 11 there is a knock on the door and when he answers it was the Military Police and the CID, Captain Donald Jacobs, who’d come to arrest him. There was evidence at his home. Cooper claimed the knife had gone missing and had not seen it in a few days, but was found in the attic with the victims blood. He tells Sampson and Cross that he was framed, but doesn’t know who would hold a grudge against him.
Starkey, Harris and Griffin were at a log cabin in the northern Smokey Mountains, in Kentucky. They did all the things that they could not do at home: listen to loud music, play games, smoked cigars and drank too much. They talked about their days in Vietnam. Their code name was the 3 blind mice and they were elite military assassins. Soon they watch a video that was shot by Harris showing Starkey murdering the 3 women. Then it showed Griffin bring the blue paint.
In the morning Cross and Sampson are in Fort Bragg to meet with Capt. Jacobs. Jacobs informs them he believed Cooper was innocent until the DNA testing and all the evidence led to him. The murder weapon had been found in his attic. There were also Polaroid pictures of the murdered women found next to the knife. The pictures showed the women put in sexual positions after they’d been murdered.
That afternoon, the 2 canvass the neighborhood the women had lived in. Cross and Sampson talk to a woman, whose son was wheelchair bound, and she tells him her 10 year old son had seen 3 men, 1 of them with a videocamera. The young boy tells the detectives that he told this information to the police but no one bothered interviewing him. The kid, Ronald Hodge recounted the story twice to them and the story never changed. Downstairs they talk with his mom, Anita Hodge, tells the detectives that she believes her son. Anita tells Cross and Sampson that Capt. Jacobs had also interviewed Ronald, but no one ever called Ronald as a witness on the trial.
The FBI calls Cross early the next day. They found some irregularities with the Hertz Corporation rental car nearby during the week of the murders. Someone had used a fake credit card and fake drivers license on an SUV rental. They go to Sgt. Cooper’s home. They noticed one of the windows had been shimmied and broken. In the closet Alex finds a creepy little straw doll. Sampson tells him those dolls were from Vietnam. There was also a big medallion with an eye on it. As they look through the house the Military police arrive and were arresting them for trespassing, but Sampson had a letter from Cooper allowing them access to the house.
The next morning, Cross and Sampson talk when Cross' cellphone rings. A woman on the other line tells her she had been with Cooper on the night of the murders but is married with children and can't come in. The 2 had been having an affair. She tells him Cooper did not murder those women.
That evening the 2 meet with General Stephen Bowen, the commanding officer at Ft. Bragg, who gives them 10 minutes. Cross tells him everything they've discovered, but to no avail, the General is sure he killed those women.
The 3 blind mice are back at Ft. Bragg. They are there on official business as salesmen for the gun manufacturer of Heckler & Koch. Their sales meeting went well and the 3 decide to pick up a young prostitute. They begin yelling at her in Vietnamese, making her to a nearby swamp. The 3 dress in their ranger outfits and hunt her. Once they catch her they kill her, and paint her like the others.
Alex had returned to DC and woke up early the next morning. He notices Nana is still sleeping. Alex is concerned because she never oversleeps. He heads to the kitchen, makes coffee and breakfast. Nana still hasn’t woken up. Alex fears she’s dead and goes to her room. She is startled by him and tells him she’s under the weather. Alex stays home that day. Alex calls Kevin Cassidy, a friend at The Pentagon, and tells him about Sgt. Cooper. Kevin says he’ll look into it.
Once Nana feels better in 2 days, Cross and Sampson return to Ft. Bragg.
Cross and Sampson go to a neighborhood located about a ½ mile away from the base. They knock on a door and an attractive woman comes out. The woman was attending her 4 children, when they introduce themselves. The woman, Tori Sanders, was mentioned by Capt. Jacobs that she was a friend of Cooper. She says nothing. Cross tells her that she had called him 2 days ago and that he found out Cooper had been there that night. Tori tells Cross that she did not have an affair with Cooper, that yes he had been there that night, and so had her husband, that neither her nor her husband believed Cooper was a murderer and that her husband was the one that asked her to call Cross.
That night, Alex and John go to a local bar. They overhear about the death of the young prostitute. Soon, they are confronted by 3 soldiers and end up in a fight. The soldiers want them to leave the case alone and return home. The police arrive in a few minutes and arrest Cross and Sampson. They spend the night in jail. The whole fight had been a setup. The next morning they are released by Capt. Jacobs, who again warns them to return home.
They do return home. At his home office he receives an email from someone calling himself Foot Soldier. In the email he wrote: 1) in the last 3 years, over 80 soldiers have been murdered. 2) An army pilot was convicted of killing a gay man on the base even though the pilot was not even stationed at the base until three months after the murder. His prints and DNA was on the scene. The pilot claimed innocence, even to the day he was executed. The pilot had a clean record before his conviction and was a model soldier. 3) An army barber was convicted of murdering three prostitutes, even though on the night of the murders he had been home with his wife. Prints and DNA was found on the scene. The murder weapon, a knife, was found at his garage. He claimed innocence even until the day he was executed.
Cross and Sampson meet with Lieutenant General Shelly Bono from the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. She tells them that the Army has no intention of helping Cooper and believe him guilty. After the meeting Alex is convinced the army is hiding something.
Thomas Starkey had stopped at a local strip mall to pick up some bagels and a newspaper. He’s approached by 2 individuals faking a speech impediment asking for money. He takes his gun out and tells them to never come back there again. Starkey’s daughter had been oblivious to the whole thing as she was listening to her music in the car.
Cross and Sampson return to the North Carolina prison to visit Sgt. Cooper. He was in the death watch area of death row. Cooper thanks them for trying to help him and insists he’s innocent.
The next day Sgt. Cooper is executed by lethal injection.
A few days later, Ales is at the airport to pick up SFPD Inspector Jamilla “Jam” Hughes, who is coming for a visit. They are nervous and excited to see each other. Nana cooks a feast for Jam. She does really well and Nana is impressed by her. Jam is staying in the guest room and the next day the 2 go to a cabin a few miles outside of town. The cabin had a jacuzzi which both share. Soon the 2 make love.
After a few days Jam returns home. Alex is excited and feeling good about this relationship.
Later at home Sampson shows up and he looks awful. He is drunk, unshaven, unclean and has swollen eyes. He starts yelling at Alex and says if he’s so smart why couldn’t he save his friend. Alex tells him to go home and sleep it off. Soon the 2 get into a fight. Nana separates them. John apologizes to Nana and leaves.
The next morning when Alex comes down, John and Nana are having breakfast together. John apologizes to Alex. Alex takes him to his office to show him some notes. There was a murder in New Jersey and in Arizona in which the victim had been painted. Cross tells John that the army gets over 60 murders a year and have been working on a way to lower that number. He tells him about the email and how the soldier had impeccable record and how the weapons were found too conveniently. In the Arizona case, there is a court transcript of 3 men being seen in the area before the murder took place. Alex is convinced that those 3 men are the real murderers.
The 3 blind mice get together with their families every Saturday night, except during high school football when they tailgated on Friday nights. They did all the cooking and cleaning up. They genuinely loved their families and considered what they did as contract killing to simply be a job that they enjoyed and were good at. The next day the men traveled to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. They were going to Jefferson Rock. They had their gear ready. They had M16 rifles, guns, knife, camouflage sticks, poncho liners, night vision goggles, and food. They were going on a mission called “hunt and kill”, but were doing it the army way.
The 3 were assassins for hire. They were professional, discreet, careful and expensive. This job was the most lucrative and had involved several murders over the last 2 years. They did not know the identity of their employer and were given assignments only after each job was completed. Starkey had first watch. He thought back to Vietnam where he discovered he liked to kill and liked the feeling he got from killing. He also killed in between jobs because he wanted to and he liked it. Harris went on reconnaissance and looked through the area. He spotted the area where hikers and campers were staying in tents. He returns to report to the others. The men went on combat mode. They put on camouflage, did not speak but used hand signals. They waited until nightfall to kill a couple that was camping by slitting their throats. We learn that they’d, at one time, killed 4 police homicide detectives in Tampa, Florida.
Sampson and Cross are driving to the Harpers Ferry. The men had also used paint on their victims. When they arrive, they discover that the police already have a suspect. A former Army Colonel, with no past record and is currently a Baptist minister.
The 2 meet with reverend Reece Tate. They tell him about Cooper. He tells them he never met Cooper in ‘Nam and he was never stationed at Ft. Bragg. He tells them that he always came to this area to camp once a year. He’s divorced after leaving the army because he used to hit his wife. He tells them he’s innocent and never killed anyone.
Alex continued working as a homicide detective as he hadn’t given his notice yet. The cases he was given were easy and simple. On the first available weekend, Alex took a flight to Tempe, Arizona to meet with Susan Etra, whose husband had been convicted and executed for killing the gay man. Mrs. Etra was suing the army for the wrongful death of her husband. Her attorney was present when Cross arrived. At the trial the prosecutor alleged that Lt. Col. Etra was in love with the gay soldier. The gun used to kill the soldier had disappeared a few days before the murder, but had been returned conveniently for the police to find. The lawyer does eventually leave and Alex asks to look around her husband’s belongings. Alex finds uniforms and pictures but is surprised to find the same creepy little straw doll he found at Cooper’s closet and the medallion with the eye on it. Alex asks Mrs. Etra about it. She claims to have never seen them and lets Alex take them with him.
Sampson is in New Jersey to see Billie Houston, whose husband had allegedly killed another soldier in nearby Fort Monmouth 2 years earlier. She meets Sampson and the two go for a walk at the beach. Sampson tells her about Sgt. Cooper and he asks her about her husband. She tells him that that night was very ordinary. She’d come home from work and they were watching TV when the police came. She tells Sampson that until his dying day Lawrence claimed he was innocent.
Jam was meeting Alex and the two spent a night at a hotel in Tempe.
When Sampson was done with Mrs. Houston, it was too late to return to DC and he checked himself in a local motel. A few minutes after walking in the door his phone rings and Mrs. Houston invites him to dinner.
After dinner the two are talking when Sampson sees the straw doll. Mrs. Houston tells him she’s never really noticed it before. She tells him there was a medallion with an eye she had found but threw it away. After talking, Sampson is about to leave and is outside when he asks he can come in for another cup of coffee.
Cross returns to DC at 11 pm and Nana was up waiting for him. She tells him she’s had a bit of pain on her chest and she’s seeing a Dr. Kayla Coles, who does work in the neighborhood. Alex tells her that they have money to see a Doctor of her choice to which she replies Dr. Coles is her choice.
Cross is at his office upstairs reviewing the case. A PFC in Hawaii is on death row for allegedly killing 5 men. A captain was convicted of killing 2 junior officers in San Diego, California 3 months ago. He hears footsteps coming toward him. It is Damon. He is hot and sweaty. He tells him something is wrong with his friend Ramon.
Ramon, who is 12 years old was doing Ecstasy. Damon takes Alex to where Ramon was having a seizure. When Alex was there two EMS techs were working on him. Damon had called 9-1-1 before getting his dad. Dr. Coles was also on the scene. Once Ramon was stable, Alex and Damon return home.
Starkey is leaving from Raleigh to go to New York. He was going to kill two people at West Point the other two would meet him there. They always took separate flights. They still didn’t know who was paying them and why those people had to die. He went over the fees that the person had paid: $100,000 first 3 kills, $150,000 for the 4th, $200,000 for the 5th, $250,000 for West Point and a $500,000 bonus once the job was done.
Once all three are there they wait until nightfall. They go to the back side of Col. Robert Bennett's house, who was helping his wife make dinner. The three killers enter through the back and storm into the kitchen, unmasked. Bennett recognized them immediately. Bennett had worked with them in Vietnam.
Ron Burns, FBI Director, gave Alex a heads up about the “murder/suicide” at West Point. He and Sampson arrive at the chaotic scene. Inside the home they meet with Pat Conte who tells them it was a murder suicide. Later in the living room two men from the FBI confirms with Cross that they believe this is the work of three men.
The three men are celebrating and partying in New York City. After dinner they go to a whorehouse. As soon as they get there they start killing inside. After using the girls they kill them too.
Cross is in his room reading and sending emails. He’s surprised to get another email from Footsoldier. He tells Alex to see Col. Owen Handler, who may provide some answers. After Col. Handler was done with Class, Cross and Sampson approach him and they tell him everything. He agrees to talk to them later that night and tells them where he lives.
That night, the two pick Handler up and go for a drive. As they drive Handler tells them a few names during the Vietnam War period. A gunman comes from behind, shooting and killing Handler. There had been two drivers.
At the hospital, Owen is pronounced dead. General Mark Hutchinson had gone there but avoided looking at Cross. Hutchinson was the commanding officer at West Point.
The next morning in the newspaper, cross reads about the murdered call girls. The women were Vietnamese and Thai. Cross makes a call to the NYPD. He has Ron Burns track down a name that Handler had given him before dying, Tran Van Luu, a former ARVN now living in the US. Tran was on death row at the Federal Prison in Florence, Colorado for 9 murders in Newark, New Jersey and New York City. Kyle Craig, The Mastermind, was also on death row there. Alex decides to chance it and goes there.
Cross meets with Tran, who is 54 years old. He looks like a school teacher and is fluent in four languages. He tells Cross a story. He grew up in a poor province in Vietnam. He was a scout for the Americans during the war. He immigrated to the US in 1979 and joined a gang named Ghost Shadows. He did kill those 9 people but has yet to receive an execution date. Cross asked him if he knew the soldiers that were framed. Tran says no. Cross asks Tran if he knew that Handler was the man in charge at the school that trained him to be a scout. Tran again says no. He tells Cross he’s only meeting with him as a favor to Kyle Craig.
Cross visits Kyle. Kyle looked older and was 20 pounds lighter. He tells Alex that he's missed him, he's missed hunting with him and hunting him. He tells Alex he'll find a way to escape and was very close to escaping a month ago. He tells Alex that when he gets out, he'll pay him a visit and laughs maliciously. Cross leaves.
Sampson and Billie spend a day together and go swimming at a nearby beach. Soon they go to Billie’s house and the two make love.
Cross returns to work full time once he got back from Colorado. He works at home on the Sgt. Ellis case. He received some boxes containing documents from the Vietnam War courtesy of the Pentagon. Alex was looking for any connection between the Cooper, Houston, Tate, Estra, Bennett and Luu. Cross found no connection. The men never served together in Vietnam. That night Alex receives another email from Footsoldier. He tells Alex that he’s off track. To go back to where he’s been and that the answers are behind him. The FBI was giving Alex assistance in going into the Vietnamese consulate to look over their files. After work every day, Cross goes to the embassy and there is nothing relevant. An aide was assigned to him to translate some of the documents and help him. After a few hours, the aide finds something interesting. There had been unauthorized killing done on peasant villages. The killings were organized and methodical. There were formal complaints made to the US. The victims that were murdered included innocent women and children. The bodies of the victims were painted red, white and blue. A team of army rangers were sent to the area to investigate. After a few days of going through the files they find the names of the assassins. The operation was called The 3 Blind Mice and the names were Starkey, Harris and Griffin.
After receiving confirmation from the FBI that the 3 blind mice were suspects in a politician’s murder in Cincinnati, Ohio and a union leader in Santa Barbara, California, Cross and Sampson go to Rocky Mount, North Carolina to look for the men. They go into a sports bar near Heckler & Koch, where they new the men worked as salesmen. They strike up a conversation with the bartender and find out that the men go there after work. Cross and Sampson wait for them. The bar was crowded and racially mixed so they blended in.
They look at the men. The next day they look at their houses. That afternoon they crash the company softball game and play against them. Afterwards they go to Starkey’s house while the men are still at the game. Cross figures the men know that Sampson and Cross are here for them. Cross and Sampson break into the house to look around. The house was immaculate, orderly and expensive, too much for a salesman salary. They find a closet with a padlock. Sampson uses the butt of his gun to open it. Inside is dirty porn featuring Asian girls. Starkey’s SUV pulls into the driveway. All three of the men get out.
Alex & John take out their guns and calmly walk out to the driveway. The three men warn the two detectives to return home and to mind their own business. Sampson and Cross mind their ground. Starkey knew everything about Cross. Cross asked him how he knew so much. Starkey tips his cap and says “Footsoldier” and then the three men leave.
On the way up to DC, Sampson tells Cross about Billie. He sounded excited about her.
When he gets home there is an ambulance at his house. Dr. Cole was there. Nana thought she was having a heart attack but it was just a dizzy spell.
Nana will have some tests done and Dr. Coles wants her to take it easy. Dr. Coles actually had Nana as an 8th grade teacher and tells Alex she was the toughest teacher she ever had. For the next few days, Alex works from home and helps with the chores. He received a fax from Footsoldier, who tells Alex that in Florida another former Army Special Forces soldier that had served in Vietnam was wrongfully executed for murder and he had been innocent. He mentions that the total of innocent convictions and executions totaled six.
The tests for Nana came back and she has an irregular heartbeat. She's going to undergo surgery to help correct it.
That afternoon he was taking little Alex with him to a convenience store when a car approaches him. He notices a car approaching and sees a shooter and drops to the floor. Alex fires back and manages to hit the shooter. The driver takes off.
The next day they follow the three men. They’d put a tracking device on the vehicle. None of the three looked shot. After several hours of driving, they stop in a diner in Lavonia, GA. The get back on the road and go all the way to Kennesaw Mountain. Once inside the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, they find a place to hide the car, take out a duffel bag and look for the men. They find the log cabin and see the men have company; it was Marc Sherman, the district attorney that had prosecuted Sgt. Cooper. It’s already dark and night has fallen.
Cross takes a long-range microphone from the duffel bag. They hear that Sherman was bribed and were finishing the payoff. Suddenly a red convertible sports car arrives with two Vietnamese call girls. They continue to listen as everyone parties. After several hours, Sherman yells to put the knife down and leave the girl alone. Cross and Sampson listen to what seems to be Sherman getting stabbed. The two move in toward the cabin and once inside they see the women screaming and Marc Sherman lying dead on the floor. There is a shootout and Cross and Sampson decide that the only option is to kill the three men. Soon the fight goes in the forest. Sampson is down and lays motionless.
Cross leaves Sampson and goes after the men. He surprises Harris and shoots him in the face. Soon he’s face to face with the other two. He notices Sampson is no longer where he was laying. From behind John yells at them to put down their guns, but Griffin turns around to shoot, only Sampson shoots him in the throat. Starkey tries to shoot Cross but the two friends take him down. The three blind mice are now dead.
Nana has her surgery and it was successful.
After visiting Nana in the hospital, the FBI sent some records on the 3 Blind Mice that they had received from the military.. Alex was trying to find out who had sent the three men to set up those soldiers. Alex noticed that the records had nothing about the three men having served together in Nam. Cross thought that the documents were doctored.
A week since the shooting of the 3 Blind Mice, Cross meets Burns. Burns tells Alex that Kyle is in solitary confinement and it’s driving him crazy not being the center of attention or talking with anyone. He then shows Alex a file. The file contains a piece of cloth with a patch. The patch contains an image of the straw doll. The patch came from a 16 year old gang member in New York City. The gang’s name was Ghost Shadows. He was the one sending emails to Alex, but the kid was not Footsoldier. He was just the messenger. He sent the emails from a computer lab at his high school. Burns gives him a folder on Tran Van Luu. We also learn that Burns had done two tours in Vietnam and belonged to the Marines. Burns says the US fought Vietnam using guerilla tactics.
Cross visits Luu in Colorado and he admits to being Footsoldier. He tells Cross that Cooper had raped and killed a 12 year old girl. That Houston, Tate, and Etra had all committed atrocities in Vietnam. He had told Handler and he had known. He also told Cross the 3 blind mice were the worst, which is why he used them. He said he had nothing to do with Handler’s death.
Sampson had taken a leave and was still recuperating from his injuries. Cross interviews veterans from that era and reading documents and one name kept coming up all the time. Cross decided to make another trip to West Point to see Gen. Mark Hutchinson. At the General's office he is not allowed in. Alex leaves bur waits for the General to come home that night. He knocks on the door and goes inside when the General opens the door. Alex knows the General had sent the 3 blind mice to target innocent civilians and had Handler killed because Handler knew and Hutchinson was a candidate for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Two men come from another room and they take Alex down.
They take Alex to upstate New York and strip him. They are about to kill him when dozens of members of the Ghost Shadows attack the General and his 2 gunmen, and let Cross go.
The morning after Burns calls Cross that they found 3 bodies in the woods in upstate New York and they were painted. Alex tells him who it was. Alex also accepts an offer to join the FBI.
Epilogue: John Sampson marries Billie Houston.