Bosch is 64 years old and is staring down mandatory retirement from the LAPD within a year. He has been assigned to mentor a new partner, 27-year-old Lucia Soto. Bosch and Soto are assigned the investigate the death of Orlando Merced, a mariachi performer who was shot in a public square ten years ago but only now has died from the lingering effects of the bullet wound. The shooting was thought to be random gang violence but when Bosch and Soto find out from the autopsy that Merced was shot by a rifle, a new direction of investigation opens.
Meanwhile, Bosch discovers that Soto is investigating another case on her own time. When Soto was a small child the unlicensed day care she was staying in burned in an arson fire, killing five of her friends. Bosch agrees to help his partner look into this very personal case.
This novel contains examples of:
- Anticlimax: The investigation into the Bonnie Brae fire leads to Harry and Lucia arresting...no one. They eventually determine that the two guys who died in the 1997 North Hollywood shootout were the killers, and Ana Acevedo, who was an unwitting co-conspirator, is killed in cartel country.
- The Atoner: Ana Acevedo, who had a hand in the North Hollywood robbery, was so racked by guilt over the deaths of the children in the fire that she became a nun.
- The Bus Came Back: Teresa Corazon, last seen when she was head of the medical examiner's office and star of her own reality show in City of Bones, pops up again. She has fallen out of political favor and all the way back to her old job slicing up corpses. She tries to start up the Friends with Benefits thing with Bosch again but he isn't interested.
- Continuity Nod:
- Bosch finds out that Soto is investigating the Bonnie Brae fire, which she was a victim of as a child. (Five other children died when the day care burned.) He remembers that he "had similarly been driven to solve a case from his own past." That was the plot of The Last Coyote, when he investigated his mother's murder.
- Bosch reads an old newspaper article on the Bonnie Brae fire, which turns out to have been written by Joel Bremmer. Bremmer the reporter was a character in the early Harry Bosch novels, last appearing in The Concrete Blonde where he's crucial to the plot.
- Bosch asks Rachel Walling about her boyfriend Jack McEvoy, protagonist of non-Bosch Connelly novels The Poet and The Scarecrow. Jack has found a job doing investigative reporting for an internet news site.
- Soto, who shot someone in the line of duty, is going to mandatory psychological counseling sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos. Dr. Hinojos was Harry Bosch's shrink in The Last Coyote and counsels Madeline Bosch in The Drop.
- The Dead Guy Did It: Bosch eventually figures out that the perpetrators of the Bonnie Brae fire that killed six were Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu, two Historical Domain Character bank robbers who were killed in the 1997 North Hollywood shootout just a couple of years later.
- Double-Meaning Title: The Burning Room is both a Bosch expression for an investigation that opens a door into some very serious stuff, and also the literal burning room that Lucia Soto was trapped in as a little girl.
- Foreshadowing: Multiple comments about how the DROP program is putting stress on the LAPD pension fund and the department is looking for reasons to force out old cops like Bosch working on DROP contracts. This is exactly what happens at the end of the book, as Bosch is fired from the LAPD when he's caught breaking into his captain's office.
- Historical Domain Character: Only in the backstory. But Bosch's investigation into the Bonnie Brae fire reveals that Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu, the bank robbers who met their deaths in the infamous North Hollywood shootout, were the perpetrators of the fire and the check cashing store robbery immediately afterward, with the help of the fictional Ana Acevedo.
- Hunting "Accident": Bosch discovers in his investigation that Broussard, the Big Bad, once eliminated one of his Mooks via a Hunting Accident.
- It's Personal: Bosch and Lucia Soto investigate the day care fire that Soto was trapped in as a child, which killed several of her friends.
- Mythology Gag:
- Soto asks Bosch if he's ever been to Calexico before, and Bosch said yes, he once went there looking for his partner. Bosch tells her, "In fact, it would probably fill a book." It did fill a book, The Black Ice.
- There's a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Epistle to Titus. When the book was published in November 2014, the first season of Bosch had aired just a few months earlier, starring Titus Welliver in the title role. On top of that, Welliver read the audiobook version of The Burning Room.
- Old Cop, Young Cop: Bosch, who is due to retire soon, is paired up with young rookie homicide detective Lucia Soto in order to give her the benefit of his experience and expertise.
- Real Person Cameo: Rick Jackson, Mitzi Roberts, and Tim Marcia, three Real Life LAPD cops who help Michael Connelly with research, appear as minor characters, one of several books in which they do so.
- Sudden Downer Ending: Pretty much out of nowhwere, after both plot threads have been wrapped up, Harry Bosch is fired from the LAPD for the incident where he broke into his captain's office. The fact that the department is looking for reasons to terminate cops on DROP contracts is foreshadowed in the novel, but it still comes as a shock.
- Taking the Veil: Ana Acevedo assumed a new identity and became a nun after her participation in an armed robbery led to the deaths of five children.
- Twofer Token Minority: Lucia Soto's rapid promotion to detective is credited in part to her being a "twofer" because she's a woman and of Mexican ancestry. (Being in a highly publicized shootout where she took out some bad guys also helped.)
- Two Lines, No Waiting: True of most of the later Bosch novels. In this one Harry and Lucy investigate two cases that don't intersect.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Bosch is appalled when his "everybody counts or nobody counts" mantra is adopted by gubernatorial candidate Armando Zeyas as a campaign slogan.