The protagonist is a whiskey priest. A self professed sinner, the whiskey priest tries to avoid imprisonment by hiding among different villages attempting to remain one step ahead of the Mexican military. The priest has no visions of grandeur, no illusions of greatness and as he is driven on in a painful penitence, administering mass wherever he goes, he is on a desperate quest to pay for his sins and ultimately find a reprieve for his soul. He is haunted by the fact that he has fathered a child in a small village and when confronted with the child he feels only apathy while she feels evident disgust.
He becomes more apathetic as the book goes on and his desire to rest is mixed with a peculiar form of self destructiveness. Many times he could have just gone a bit farther and been free, but instead he falls prey to obvious traps and eventually is caught and finally made to pay the price for his sins.
The priest is definitely not a hero. On his last stop before almost certain freedom and liberation from the endless chase, he charges the villagers exorbitant fees to baptize their children, quickly calculating the profit in his head as he scans the crowds of children whose parents are willing to pay anything for the salvation of their children's souls...his calculating depravity at times is exchanged for moments of honor and yet it is the mercenary piety that leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth.