Trevor Griersor, a Scottish university lecturer, is spending a term in Canberra, lecturing on Scottish authors. One day a stranger phones, with garbled news of Trevor's brother Norman who vanished in Australia many years before, and has since, according to the caller, become an alcoholic and been in trouble with the police. Trevor feels overwhelmed with guilt, for having neglected his brother for so long. He imagines him penniless now, a down-and-out, drunk in the gutter; or perhaps even lying in a pauper's grave. He resolves that he must trace him, and travels to Sydney to begin his search. The search takes him to government offices, police stations, the Salvation Army, a squalid doss-house; and his experiences drive him into a state of panic. But why does he feel so compelled to search? As Douglas, that ambiguous Iago-like figure who first phoned him, now says, Norman won't be at all the younger brother of eighteen years ago; he'll be a stranger. If he's an alcoholic, he may be violent. He's unlikely to thank Trevor for seeking to patronise him by 'rescuing' him. Trevor has asked himself — and it's the basic question that faces the reader too — 'Am I my brothers' keeper?' Does he really care about his brother, or is he acting from a sense of duty? This is the novel's crux, and Trevor's cross, which he bears with him to a highly ironical conclusion. It's an absorbing study of conscience and responsibility, written with all of Crichton Smith's quiet authority.