Sloop Greer is about to granted an early release from prison after serving a year and a half for cheating on his taxes. His childhood friend and lawyer Al Eugene has arranged for him to pay back his taxes and give up the names of his associates. Sloop's wife Carmen who secretly turned him in to the IRS has no intention of settling back into a domestic situation with the wife-beating Sloop.
Meanwhile there's a team of assassins skirting the periphery of the situation covering up some loose ends; there's a trio of locals watching the Greer ranch, a District Attorney looking to be elected judge in a few months and a New York attorney is trying to recover twenty grand from a rich white Texan who just lost a case against her poor Mexican clients.
At the same time Reacher is escaping a motel by climbing out of a window. If he had only known that the obnoxious guy in the bar the previous night was a cop he probably wouldn't have headbutt him. So he finds himself exiting the motel when the cop and his buddies come looking. Now he's expecting a long wait on a Texas highway in scorching temperatures before someone agrees to give him a ride.
Carmen cruises the highway looking for someone to help her. She gives a hitchhiking Reacher a lift and convinces him to help; he takes a job at her family ranch to see how he can assist and lays some ground rules with his hosts in his own special way, as he assesses the situation.
In Echo Burning, Reacher talks about how he dealt with fear at a young age by channeling his aggression turning fear into rage. He also mentions one Jodie Garber as someone he would readily kill for, and refers to the circumstances under which he left the army after assaulting a wife-beating colonel. He explains the different types of entry and exit gunshot wounds depending on the distance of the gun, and learns how getting elected judge is like getting elected into royalty.
Supporting characters include the weather, past presidents Hayes, Fillmore and Arthur, and the grave of gunfighter Clay Allison. In addition to involving himself in a domestic situation Reacher goes shopping, gets deputized, eats ice cream, saddles a horse, wears a watch and takes leaps of intellectual guesses while 'thinking like them'. Trust and belief are tested as Reacher interacts more with the people of Pecos County, and he struggles with his instincts which served him in the army.