Defense attorney Mickey Haller is in a bad place both professionally and personally. His run for District Attorney blew up after a guy that Haller helped beat a DUI rap then went out driving drunk again and killed two people. The scandal rendered Haller's political career stillborn and estranged him from his daughter Hayley, whose classmate was one of the two people killed. And his law practice has been hurt badly enough that Haller has been left to scrounge around arraignment court trying to pick up any clients he can get.
Haller gets a better job when one Andre La Cosse asks for Haller to defend him on murder charges. La Cosse is a "digital pimp" who arranges internet bookings for various fancy prostitutes, and he has been accused of murdering a client, Gloria Dayton. Gloria Dayton is a former client of Haller's whom Mickey once tried to help get out of the life. Haller's investigation into the La Cosse case and his old friend's murder leads to a dark tale of conspiracy and corruption within the LAPD and the DEA.
Tropes present in this work:
- The Bus Came Back: In The Lincoln Lawyer Haller arranged for Gloria Dayton to turn in fugitive drug cartel kingpin Hector Moya, as part of a complicated Batman Gambit to get himself out of a jam. Detective Lee Lankford appeared in that novel as an LAPD homicide cop bent on putting Haller away for murder. In this book Dayton's murder is the central mystery and both Moya and Lankford appear again as characters.
- The Cameo: Harry Bosch, protagonist of the majority of Michael Connelly's novels, pops up briefly in one scene where he and Haller meet each other in court.
- Clear My Name: Haller's clients always say this, so it's disappointing when they turn out to be guilty. In this novel he actually gets a real innocent client in the person of Andre La Cosse. It's portrayed as a redemptive moment for him.
- Continuity Nod: There's the whole plot revolving around characters from The Lincoln Lawyer, for starters, as well as the Harry Bosch cameo. Also, back in The Lincoln Lawyer Mickey has a con artist client name Sam Scales, who goes to jail. Mickey gets him a short sentence plus five years probation but is dubious that Sam will clear the probation. Sure enough, in this story Sam pops up again, having failed to clear the probation and facing prison for another scam.
- Dirty Cop: DEA agent James Marco got Gloria Dayton to plant a gun to get Hector Moya put away for life years ago, and he killed her when he became afraid that she might confess.
- Double-Meaning Title: The "gods of guilt" is what Haller calls the twelve jurors in a trial. But he also imagines that it means all the people in his life who have died and are now waiting in the hereafter, passing judgment on his life.
- Downer Beginning: The opening reveals that a client who Haller got off of a drunk driving rap then proceeded to kill a mother and daughter in another drunk driving accident. This destroyed Haller's campaign for District Attorney and estranged him from his wife and daughter.
- Driven to Suicide: Lankford kills himself in the middle of court after confessing to his accessory-before-the-fact role in the Gloria Dayton murder.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Haller is doing this quite a bit in the first part of the novel, as he is deeply upset by his daughter cutting him off. He lays off the booze as he starts getting deeper into the Andre La Cosse case.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Invoked and subverted. A Good Samaritan helps Mick out of his crashed Lincoln after he gets run off the road, noting that he smells gas leaking and citing the risk of the car catching fire/blowing up. It doesn't.
- Hero of Another Story: During a break in court Haller runs into Harry Bosch, who says he's there for a trial involving "a cold case from '94." This is a reference to a Harry Bosch short story called "Switchblade", published in 2014.
- Hookers and Blow: It turns out that this was the business model for Gloria Dayton and all the other High Class Call Girls she ran with back in the day. They used to make it a practice to bring cocaine to the johns along with themselves as part of the full service package. This is how Gloria got tangled up with drug kingpin Hector Moya.
- Ironic Nickname: When Cisco steps out of a staff meeting to talk to one of the bikers whos been trying to find out if Mickeys being followed, Mickeys narrative describes the other guy as being even bigger than Cisco. After Cisco leaves the room, Mickey comments to the others that If this were a movie, that guy would be named Tiny. When Cisco comes back, Mickey asks what the other guys name is, and his answer has the group chuckling with how close Mickey was.Cisco: Who, Little Guy?
- Justice by Other Legal Means: James Marco, without coming out and saying so, attempts to cite this as justification to Haller, recounting the ghastly cartel murders Hector Moya committed in Mexico when he was a teenager and not subject to trial as an adult.
- Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy: Cisco says he knows "some people who know some people".
- Posthumous Character: Gloria Dayton. Partly because the whole novel is about the mystery of her murder and what led James Marco to her and Hector Moya. But also because she was an old friend of Mickey's, and Mickey thought he'd gotten her a chance at a new and better life when he sent her off to Hawaii at the end of The Lincoln Lawyer. Instead she went to Las Vegas and started hooking again, and Mickey can't understand why things didn't work out.
- Reverse Whodunnit: Sort of. The book doesn't recount the Dayton murder or reveal who killed her at the beginning. But instead of maintaining a mystery to the end like in most Mickey Haller novels, in this one Haller surmises less than halfway through the basic truth of the matter, that rogue DEA agent James Marco used Gloria to plant the gun in Moya's room and then killed her when it looked like she might tell his secret. Mickey also guesses correctly that Lee Lankford was involved. The whole second half of the book involves Haller trying to prove this before his client Andre La Cosse goes to jail for a murder he didn't commit.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: David "Legal" Siegel. "As he had aged, Legal had lost most of the social filters normally employed in polite company."
- Shout-Out: Mickey used to watch the Men in Black movies with his daughter.
- There Are No Coincidences: Cisco says this word for word when finding out that Lee Lankford, the former LAPD cop who is now investigating the Gloria Dayton murder for the DA's office, was also tailing Gloria Dayton the night that she was killed.
- Title Drop Chapter: The last part, which is basically a short epilogue tying up the story, is called "The Gods of Guilt".
- Your Mom: Haller recites a license plate number—"One Echo Robert five six seven six"—and Detective Lankford, the antagonist, shoots back with "What is that, your mom's phone number?"