New York City is thrown into chaos by the assaults of the Bone Collector, a serial kidnapper and killer who gives the police a chance to save his victims from death by leaving obscure clues. The cops go to Lincoln Rhyme, an ex-NYPD forensics expert left paralysed after an accident on the job. Rhyme reluctantly postpones his ambitions towards suicide and puts together a forensic investigation team, enlisting as his eyes and ears young police officer Amelia Sachs.
A trio of desperate convicts has hijacked a bus carrying a group of deaf and mute schoolgirls who are now being held hostage in a disused slaughterhouse. FBI agent Arthur Potter is flown in to negotiate with the men, as are local police, state troopers, politicians and the media. Not everyone has the same agenda. And the killers will kill one innocent child an hour, on the hour, until their demands are met.