Except that Harry Bosch isn't an LAPD detective anymore. He was forced into retirement two years ago at the end of The Burning Room, and has been at loose ends ever since. Now 66 years old, and having won a wrongful termination suit against the LAPD, Harry is now working part-time as a private detective. He takes as a client one Whitney Vance, a very wealthy man now 85 years old and physically extremely frail. Vance, who is aware that he has little time left, gives Harry a job: find the Mexican servant that Vance impregnated when he was a young man. Vance, who has no legitimate heirs, wants Harry to find out if he has any descendants.
Meanwhile, Harry is also working part-time for the police in San Fernando, a tiny independent enclave completely within the city of Los Angeles. The SFPD has a big problem on their hands in the person of a serial rapist who is attacking women within their own homes, called the "Screen Cutter" because he gains access by cutting the screens on doors.
Tropes present in this work:
- Artistic License Biology: No Mr.Connelly, "white and Latino genes" don't work that way. note
- Badass Grandpa: While most people his age are playing shuffleboard or retiring to Florida, Harry's still shooting it out with bad guys.
- Continuity Nod:
- Harry tells is daughter that he no longer eats Vietnamese food, a fact first established in the very first Connelly novel, The Black Echo.
- Whitney Vance knows about Harry because he read in the newspaper about Harry's case with "that doctor and the shootout." That's a reference to the prior Connelly novel, The Crossing.
- It turns out that both Harry and Vance's son, Dominic Santanello, attended the same USO show in 1969. One of the performers was Quentin McKinzie, a saxophonist—the old man that Harry is taking saxophone lessons from in Lost Light. That particular USO show was also referenced in short story "Christmas Even".
- Curtain Camouflage: A potential victim notices the Screen Cutter hiding behind a curtain in her house, and hits him in the face with a broom.
- Distant Prologue: Starts with a soldier going down in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, before jumping to the present day.
- Downer Beginning: A young soldier dies in Vietnam when his helicopter is shot down.
- Driven to Suicide: Harry's investigation reveals that Vibiana Duarte hanged herself in 1951, less than a year after Vance abandoned her.
- Everything Is Racist: Maddie accuses her father of racism for not eating Vietnamese food. Harry explains that he hasn't eaten Vietnamese food for a long time, which has nothing to do with racism.
- Forging the Will: It turns out that Vance's loyal assistant killed him, after forging a will in which he left her $10 million from his enormous fortune.
- Glorified Sperm Donor: Abigail Turnbull doesn't think much of Vance's search for his child, saying "He abandoned Vibby and he abandoned his son."
- Happily Adopted: Dominic and Olivia. Dominic was curious for a time about his true parentage, but didn't let the issue consume him. Olivia, for her part, had zero interest in knowing about her parentage. As far as she was concerned, her birth parents clearly didn't love her or want her; the Santanellos were her real parents now.
- Heritage Face Turn: Downplayed; even though Dominic was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood, he is part white. But it isn't until after discovering his true parentage to Vibiana Duarte that he decides to be more in touch with his Latino side, going as far as attending a Chicano pride event where he meets his girlfriend, Gabriela.
- I Am Not Your Father: Olivia McDonald explains to Harry that, as she and Dominic Santanello were growing up, they noticed that their darker skin complexion and facial features were vastly different from their white Italian-American parents' and neighbours', and suspected that something was off about then. When confronting their parents, they admitted that both Olivia and Dominic were adopted.
- Mixed Ancestry: Dominic and his adopted sister Olivia are of white and Latino decent.
- Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Mickey Haller. Usually a criminal defense attorney, was working in foreclosure law around the time of The Fifth Witness, hired by Harry in this novel to do probate law (Vance's will). Lampshaded when Harry wonders how much Haller knows about probate, only for Haller to shoot back "Have case, will travel." He promises to get help with anything he doesn't know.
- Personal Effects Reveal: Harry is combing through Dominic's Army footlocker, undisturbed for nearly half a century, when he gets his big break—some photos that turn out to be Dominic's girlfriend and unborn child.
- Shout-Out: The whole being-hired-by-a-rich-guy-to-handle-something-related-to-his-kid is a time-honored shout-out to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Robert B. Parker used it a couple of times, too.
- Someone to Remember Him By: Harry's investigation reveals that Dominic Santanello fathered a child—Whitney Vance's grandchild—before he was killed in Vietnam.
- Take That!: Harry takes an indirect swipe at then President-elect Donald Trump, specifically about his proposed border wall.
- Title Drop: Harry learns that Vibiana Duarte killed herself eight months after Vance abandoned her."Vance had left her on the wrong side of good-bye, and what happened in June brought about what happened in February."
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Increasingly true of later Connelly novels. The two cases Harry's working—the fate of Vance's girlfriend and child, and the San Fernando serial rapist—never intersect.
- Unexpected Inheritance: Whitney Vance's great-grandaughter is pretty surprised to find out that she's the heir to an unfathomably huge fortune.
- Vorpal Pillow: Everybody is surprised when the seemingly unnecessary autopsy of Whitney Vance reveals that rather than dying of old age, he was smothered to death by a pillow.
- We Used to Be Friends: Harry and the entire Los Angeles Police Department, after he filed his wrongful termination suit. He is now persona non grata with the LAPD, except for a few old friends like his last partner, Lucia DeSoto.