In A City of Strangers, Barnard creates one of his most memorable characters ever; the dreadful Jack Phelan. Dirty, potbellied, vulgar, selfish, Jack is a man everyone loves to hate. And the rest of his family isn't much better. The wife is slatternly, the teenaged children flirt with petty crime and prostitution, even the baby is unpleasant. Only twelve-year-old Michael Phelan seems to have escaped the family curse, and it may be just a question of time until he, too, sinks to the Phelan level.