Matthew Scudder is facing his demons. Forced out of the NYPD, he's given up the drink. He's thinking seriously about his relationship with sometime girlfriend Jan. Then he runs into "High-Low" Jack Ellery, a childhood friend from the Bronx. They're two sides of the same coin: Scudder once solved crimes as a detective. Ellery committed them. In Scudder, Ellery sees the moral man he might have become. In Ellery, Scudder sees the hard-won sobriety he hopes to achieve.
Then Ellery is killed, shot once in the mouth and once between the eyes, presumably while attempting to atone for past sins. Is it what he saw or what he said that got him killed? Ellery had no family, no friends to press for justice. Scudder reluctantly begins his own investigation, with just one lead-Ellery's Alcoholics Annonymous list of people he wronged. One of them may be a murderer, but that's not necessarily Scudder's greatest danger. Immersing himself in Ellery's world may lead him right back to the bar stool.