he title is taken from a line of the gospel of St. Luke:
There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7
A character named Kip Caley is based upon the notorious Canadian, Norman "Red" Ryan, who was responsible for several bank robberies. He was given an early release from prison in Ontario, and treated by some as a returning prodigal son.
While serving his sentence in prison, Kip is encouraged by the old prison chaplain, Father Butler, who channels Kip's keen mind and talents toward helping other inmates. And because Kip does well and is a celebrity inmate, a senator decides to work for his early release. Once on the outside Kip is offered a job at the Cornoet Hotel, which is, unfortunately across from the street of temptation that has gambling, bars and clubs, and banks. With all the attention he gets and the assemblage of some friends who are less than desirable, Kip's ego begins to deceive him. He hopes that he can procure a position on the parole board; however, Senator Maclean, who has obtained Caley's early release, but possesses an altruism that has ulterior motives attached--"a man of irresponsible generosity"--exploits Caley for his own advancement, and Caley does not get the appointment because Judge Ford, a man who goes by "the letter of the law" opposes this appointment.
Without the structure afforded him in prison, Kip Caley falls back into his old ways, despite the love of Julie, a waitress Kip has meant. He is manipulated by former inmates, Joe Foley and Ike Kermann and he re-enters the war of crime, only to be finally shot by a police officer. Tragically, Kip Caley has allowed himself to be exploited. Callaghan's narrative seems to caution his readers to not place too much faith in others; often it what the individual does that is more meaningful, giving the parable of the rejoicing over the prodigal son ironic meaning.