The novel -- set in England -- begins as Matthew Garrard returns to the world. He had been three and a half years in a Carthusian monastery. In an attempt now to do as little as possible that is selfish, he associates himself with privately sponsored halfway house, a rehabilitation center for the spiritually, psychically, and physically maimed. Here he meets an apostate priest turned despairing humanist. Between the two, there is a constant polemic vis-a-vis the nature of man, the blight of original sin, the place of the Holy Roman . Both men, the ex-monk and the priest no longer, denied one life for another, as a result belong to neither. All of the characters in Cuddon's novel are defined and define themselves about Catholicism. There is ""the presence of an absence"" or ""the absence of a presence."" Non-Catholic readers will be awed by the magnificence of Cuddon's prose. His perceptions are acute. Some of his characters -- especially an indelibly grotesque news vendor -- are well-drawn. Nonetheless, since the frame of reference here is the Catholic rather than human condition, since the ""Multitude of Sins"" are Catholic sins -- it is rough going for the general reader.