Harry Bosch is on involuntary stress leave after having flung his commanding officer, Lieutenant Harvey Pounds, through a glass window after Pounds interfered with his interrogation of a suspect. Bosch is required under the terms of his suspension to go to therapy sessions with a psychiatrist, in which Harry has to face uncomfortable truths about himself and his past.
While on stress leave and unable to work cases, Bosch decides to investigate the unsolved murder of his mother, a prostitute who was strangled when he was eleven. Bosch's mother, Marjorie Lowe, was found strangled in an alley in 1961. Bosch's investigation uncovers connections to a former LA district attorney and other very powerful and very dangerous people.
This novel contains examples of:
- 555: Truth in Television, for when Harry dials 305-555-1212, he's calling directory assistance for Metro-Dade Florida. As pointed out on the trope page, ###-555-1212 is directory assistance for most North American area codes.
- Arc Words: It is in this novel that "everybody counts or nobody counts" becomes Harry's personal Catchphrase, even referred to by himself as "my rule." In the previous book, it was just "words on the wall at Parker Center," but here it's treated as a philosophy that Harry has always believed and always lived by.
- To a lesser extent, this novel is also the first description of the "single-bullet theory" (though it's not called that) of love that Bosch refers to occasionally in later novels, here in connection with Jasmine, a painter with a Dark and Troubled Past he meets while in Florida.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Marjorie Lowe's old friend and fellow hooker Meredith Roman is introduced at the start of Bosch's investigation when Harry interviews her. She then departs the narrative until the end when she's revealed to be the murderer.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Bosch is so rattled by the death of Harvey Pounds that he lights up a cigarette in front of Deputy Chief Irving in an LAPD interview room—and Irving lets him.
- Cowboy Cop: A hallmark of Harry Bosch in every novel, and never more so than here, when he is conducting a personal freelance investigation into his own mother's murder while on involuntary stress leave and using his own supervisor's badge to do it.
- Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Harry instinctively reaches for his gun a couple of times. Being on Involuntary Stress Leave, he doesn't have it. Also, at the climax, he's about to give one of the cops responding to the 911 call his badge before he remembers that he doesn't have that, either.
- Dirty Cop: An LAPD cop is enmeshed in a criminal conspiracy.
- Disney Villain Death: The final struggle between Bosch and Gordon Mittel ends with Mittel plunging off the Mulholland hillside to his death.
- Disposable Sex Worker: Bosch is strongly against this trope, always saying that "Everybody counts or nobody counts." So even if the victim hadn't been his mother, he still wouldn't be impressed by the half-assed report that Detectives Eno and McKittrick filed on Marjorie Lowe in 1961."A prostitute was dead. It was a risk that came with her job. They had other fish to fry."
- Driven to Suicide: Meredith Roman kills herself right after Bosch's visit, because she is the murderer.
- Faking the Dead: Vaughn, Mittel's sidekick and mook, is eventually revealed to be Marjorie Lowe's old pimp Johnny Fox. Fox faked his own death in 1961 and has been living under an assumed identity ever since.
- Funetik Aksent: How Connelly renders a Southern radio preacher that Bosch hears on the radio in Florida.
- Impersonating an Officer: Bosch uses Pounds' name to run some DMV checks during his investigation. He later steals Pounds badge since he does not have his own. This leads the villains to believe that Pounds is the one investigating them, so they kidnap, torture, and kill Pounds as a result.
- Improbable Weapon User: Bosch weaponizes the 8-ball to devastating effect after he is taken captive by Mittel and stashed in a room with a pool table.
- Bosch is taken captive in the first place after getting knocked unconscious with a tire iron.
- In Medias Res: The novel begins with Harry in session at Hinojos' office. We learn about "the incident" that got him there later.
- Internal Affairs: Making Harry Bosch's life more difficult, as always. In this novel IAD tries to pin the Harvey Pounds murder on Bosch.
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Bosch "shook away the pain in his hand" after punching a security guard in the jaw.
- It's Personal: Bosch investigates his mother's murder.
- Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: One of the few things Pounds is actually good at. Edgar tells Bosch about a case he pulls where a would-be thief is killed by his own screwdriver trying to steal an airbag out of a car. The death is officially classified as an accident, but fingerprints are found in the car that belong to an accomplice, who gets charged under the Felony Murder rule. Other fingerprints in the car are the owner's, and they get run through the computers as well, revealing that the owner is wanted for an old double-homicide in Mississippi from 1976. Pounds tries to claim all three murders on the division's clearance rate on the grounds that they DID solve them, but because one was an accident and two occurred elsewhere, none are added to the homicide rate.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Bosch goes through this when he realizes that he got his Lieutenant, Harvey Pounds, killed. Bosch has been going around using Pounds' name because he's on stress leave and conducting an unsanctioned investigation. This gets Pounds killed when the bad guys think that Pounds has been the one investigating them.
- Precision F-Strike: The normally calm and reserved Dr. Hinojos doesn't take it well when Harry tells her that he snuck into one of Gordon Mittel's fundraisers and deliberately spooked him.Hinojos: Shit!
Bosch: Is that some new psychiatric term? I'm not familiar with it.
- Refuge in Audacity: Basically, how Bosch avoids being searched by IAD while carrying the deceased Harvey Pounds' badge.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Between The Concrete Blonde and the events of this book, the Northridge earthquake hit, resulting in Harry's house being severely damaged.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Dr. Hinojos diagnoses Bosch as this, not just because of his service in Vietnam but his high-pressure life as an LAPD homicide cop.
- Shout-Out: Briefly mentions Joseph Wambaugh, a master of the Police Procedural and like Connelly, a native of Pennsylvania.
- The Shrink: Bosch has therapy sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos of the Behavorial Sciences Section as one of the conditions of his stress leave.
- Son of a Whore: Harry Bosch. In this, maybe the most depressing of the Harry Bosch novels, his investigation into his mother's murder reveals that his mother had found a prospective husband and was going to quit the life and reclaim Harry from reform school. All that was ruined when his mother's jealous roommate murdered her.
- Tap on the Head: Averted. Bosch has a concussion and is pretty messed up after getting whacked on the head.
- Title Drop: A depressed Bosch spots a coyote on his way home from a bar. He wonders if it's the last coyote, wild coyotes being a dying breed in Los Angeles, and wonders if he's a dying breed as well.
- Vengeance Feels Empty: Harry, after Mittel dies."He waited for the feeling of satisfaction and triumph that he knew was supposed to come with vengeance accomplished. But none of it ever came to him. He only felt hollow and tired."
- Wham Line: "We are involved in the investigation of the homicide of Lieutenant Harvey Pounds."
- Who Watches the Watchmen?: Tolliver the IAD guy defends IAD to Bosch, saying "Somebody's got to police the police."
- You Just Told Me: How Bosch gets reporter Keisha Russell to reveal that Brockman of IAD was the one who leaked the story that Bosch was a suspect in the Pounds murder.