A prominent widow is found dead at the foot of the cellar stairs in the family home on a farm in the lush Bluegrass section of Kentucky. Her head has been bashed in by an old flatiron found near the body and her mouth stuffed full of ashes. The county is shocked - horrified at the brutality of the murder and mystified at the use of the ashes.
Theo Clark, a young Marine veteran of the Korean War, working part time at the local newspaper while finishing up his interrupted college career, is assigned to cover the story because no experienced reporters are around when the tip comes in. A band of wandering Gypsies are suspected, as is another young Marine veteran of Korea with drug and alcohol problems. Even the victim's married daughter, her only child, is a suspect.
Theo has never covered a murder but if he can unravel this mystery it can be his ticket to the start of an exceptional career. On the surface a mystery tale, Theo & The Mouthful of Ashes is also an exploration of the social and political dynamics at play in an important small town in the mid-1950s and of the draw home-place has on individuals. It is the prequel to Theo's Story and carries Theo from his return from the war to the beginning of his career.