The eponymous protagonist of this novel is a prisoner of the German army in France; but as we soon discover, he is nobody's idea of a hero. In order to keep himself sane while denying the charges and absorbing the beatings of his captors, Richard Temple conducts a minute examination--one might almost call it a prosecution--of his own life. Temple escapes from a blighted childhood and his widowed, alcoholic mother thanks to an artistic gift, which is the one thing of value he has to his name. His life as a painter in London of the 1930s is cruelly deprived. In order to eat, he squanders his one asset by becoming a forger of art, specializing in minor works by Utrillo. He is rescued by the love of a beautiful and wealthy woman, and it is the failure of this relationship, coupled with the outbreak of war, that propels him into the world of espionage.