Once a powerful judge, Ellis Portal was convicted of a felony and disgraced. His life style has changed drastically. He is now living as a homeless person in a ravine along a Toronto river. While working in his vegetable garden, he finds a ring with a black hand attached to it. Ellis recognizes the ring as one of five that was exchanged between himself and four other law school graduates (all of whom were white). When the rings were exchanged, they were accompanied by a vow that each of them would perform one favor, no questions asked, for each of the others. During the book, this favor is called in twice for Ellis.
In order to solve the mystery of the ring, Portal needs to go back into the civilized world. When he does so as a vagrant, he is treated without respect. When he goes through great lengths to appear "normal", he is accepted. He first visits another street person, Queenie, who cannot help him but asks him to see how a young woman named Moonstar is doing. Moonstar is a prostitute who spent some time at a hostel called "Second Chances". She is convinced that the well-to-do hostel is responsible for spiriting away several people, including newborn babies of some of the women who reside there. Although this seems implausible to Ellis, he agrees to look into it.
His main connection whohelps in his investigation is a reporter named Aliana who treated him fairly during his worst ordeals. She is kind and helpful. She also serves a useful purpose in the story of being able to tap into information that Ellis needs to investigate Second Chances and the other lawyers with whom he made his pact.
The first two-thirds of the book were thought-provoking as it made the reader consider attitudes toward the unfortunates of society. However, the last third veered off into fantastic events, clichés and unbelievable happy endings for almost everybody. Aubert writes with great sensitivity about the intricacies of life on the streets as well as other issues such as prostitution, homosexuality and the vagaries of the justice system, all of which make this a book worth reading in spite of the overly fortuitous plot resolutions.