In the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon, a Cambridge academic who has just acquired a copy of Emily Dickinson's Poems from a second-hand bookshop in Soho, is knocked down and killed at a crossroads. Following Bluma's death, a colleague finds in her house a copy of Conrad's The Shadow Line inscribed with a mysterious dedication and crusted around the edges with what appears to be cement. Intrigued, the colleague begins an investigation which will take him on a journey from Cambridge to Buenos Aires and across the River Plate to Montevideo as he hunts for clues to the identity and fate of an obscure and dedicated bibliophile. He learns the story of Carlos Brauer, a man whose obsession for books is all consuming. Vast bookcases fill his rooms from end to end, floor to ceiling, forcing his car out of the garage and even himself out of his bedroom and in to the attic. Books are arranged according to a strict system: Shakespeare cannot be placed next to Marlowe, because of accusations of plagiarism between the two, and Martin Amis cannot sit alongside Julian Barnes. All becomes dependent upon a complex indexing system, which will ultimately prove to be the undoing of this man of books.