The Book of Guardians is a detective story set in the 1980s in Shrewsbury and Toronto. A social worker – Court Guardian, Philip Eyre - searches for the father of a baby girl and finds himself obsessed by the girl’s mother, Janet Burns. While investigating the case, Philip comes to question his own life – his own fathering and father.
Janet Burns ends up in psychiatric hospital after trying to commit suicide. Her daughter is adopted; the father is tracked down to prison and the case is apparently solved. Philip takes a new job in Toronto as a researcher but still senses some elusive connection with the case, while also becoming haunted by his own past.
Returning to England, the obsession with the case gathers pace. Is Janet Burns related to him? Are they connected by some strange literary provenance - Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre? By now he is randomly switching from one possibility, one bizarre plot about orphans and illegitimacy, to the next. He suffers a breakdown while giving a lecture on ‘society’s duty of care’. The pursuit of an answer to the case has turned back in on him; now he is the one who feels pursued. The world is left different as a consequence.
The Book of Guardians asks whether it is possible to care, and whether it is possible to recall and know your own past with any degree of certainty.