The novel's protagonist is Victor Jenner, sent to prison for shooting and crippling a police officer after an attempted rape. At his trial and afterwards he claims that his actions were unintentional and somehow provoked by his victim. But there may have been other reasons for his attack of which even he was unaware. Ten years later, Jenner is released from prison and has to find himself a new life, with the reduced resources produced by ten years' incarceration and the handicap of a significant criminal record. He discovers that it is all too easy to slip back into the old one.