Joseph Wylde is a man with a past: once he ran with an outlaw called the Hanged Man, but now he runs a bookshop in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and their two children. His father in law, a U.S. Marshal, shot the Hanged Man dead in a final gunfight in Astoria 10 years ago. His body was burned along with his red-handled gun. The Marshal is retired now, and living quietly in Astoria. His daughter and son in law want him to move up to Portland and stay with them, but he insists that he belongs in Astoria.
One day, the Marshal is found digging up graves in the Astoria graveyard and can't remember why. Kate and Joseph insist on taking him to stay with them and the kids in Portland, and then the trouble starts. A young Astoria malcontent named Henry remembers seeing a grave dug where there shouldn't be one, and a famous red-handled gun thrown into it. He interests a band of petty outlaws in the Hanged Man's legendary weapon, and they go graverobbing themselves. The gun they find doesn't match the legends, but the corpse is remarkably well-preserved, and they decide to sell it to a circus as a curiosity. There is also a small black book, written in apparent nonsense, which Henry keeps for himself.
As Henry reads the book, he realizes that it contains great power, enough to make the dead walk again under his command. He is half right; the Hanged Man walks again, but he walks to his own will, which is revenge, and the mindless dead climb from their graves to follow him to Portlandtown, and unfinished business.
This book provides examples of:
- Chinese Laborer: Many of the boatmen who offer transportation through Portland's flooded winter streets are Chinese immigrants.
- Cool Guns: The Marshal's gun is a Colt Navy
- Evil Weapon:The Hanged Man's red-handled Colt Walker always shoots to kill, and makes whoever's carrying it want to shoot.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The legendary Hanged Man is called that because he was hanged, and survived.
- Flesh-Eating Zombie: The mindless zombies that are created by the Hanged Man's presence are fairly standard modern type, eating flesh and turning those they bite into zombies.
- Hand Cannon: The Hanged Man's gun is a red-handled Colt Walker, which never needs reloading.
- Outlaw: The Hanged Man is a famous outlaw, who survived an attempted execution.
- Retired Gunfighter: The Marshal laid down his gun after he shot the Hanged Man, and has lived ten years in peace. When trouble comes to his family, though, he picks it up again.
- Revenant Zombie: The Hanged Man is sapient, capable of speech, and motivated by a desire to get his gun back and to kill those he feels wronged him.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: The Hanged Man. He survived being hanged because the lynch mob didn't include anyone who knew how to do it right and he got away before the actual law could take him into custody again.
- The Trope without a Title: The Hanged Man is known only as The Hanged Man. He once had another name, but no-one now remembers it. with the possible exception of Joseph Wylde
- U.S. Marshal: The Marshal was one most of his life, and people still respectfully address him as such.