Returning to the historical territory--19th-century Australia and England--of his Booker-winning Oscar and Lucinda (1988), Carey sets his sights on 1830s London, where an exiled convict has returned to breathe the air of home and to see his beloved son. Pardoned and prosperous in New South Wales, but still under penalty of death if discovered in England, the fearless Jack Maggs steps out of a coach one evening in London to search for Henry Phipps, the boy he had left behind years before. He discovers Phipps's house, but, finding no one home, Maggs seeks employment as a neighbor's footman in order to keep an eye out for his son's return. That night, at a literary dinner hosted by his new employer, Maggs makes the acquaintance of an up-and-coming young writer, Tobias Oates, whose skill as a mesmerist is needed to cure Maggs of a "fit." Oates, penetrating his "patient's" ruses, recognizes a motherlode of material waiting to be tapped, and offers the man a deal: the name of someone who can locate Phipps in exchange for two weeks of demonstrating his ability to engage Maggs's fit-inducing demons through hypnosis. As they meet, however, other forces conspire to alter the scheme of things. During his wife's confinement, Oates began an affair with her sister, who now reveals that she too is pregnant. At the same time, a maid in the household where Maggs works has set her cap for him, arousing jealousy in his employer. To top things off, Phipps is revealed to be in hiding nearby, terrified of being disinherited by the man who spared no expense for him but who--he knows--isn't really his father. Making his way through Caroy's complexities of plot, Maggs is gradually and sure-handedly revealed as being honest, fierce, and fabulously deluded. His incessant letter-writing, though, used to explain his past to his boy (and to us), proves a cumbersome device.