A pointlessly elaborate portrait of disparate lives coming together in the Philippines, by English novelist Garland (The Beach, 1996). At a certain point, obscurity grows more annoying than intriguing-when, for example, something seemingly complex stands revealed as not just simple but actually dull. This very simple story is complicated as much as possible in the telling--but for no apparent reason. Don Pepe is a gangster in Manila A half-breed Filipino with European pretensions, he controls various rackets connected with the shipping trade. He meets to discuss business with Scan, an Englishman who owns the freighter Karaboujan, now anchored in Manila's harbor. Sean's partner Alan was killed by Don Pepe's henchmen for refusing to pay protection money to Don Pepe. Sean is strapped for cash as the result of a bad insurance claim, and he tries to convince Don Pepe to allow him one free passage through the Philippines so that he can recoup his losses and avoid bankruptcy. Don Pepe refuses to yield; Scan has to flee for his life. He ends up shooting it out with Don Pepe's men in the house of Corazon, an old woman who is a complete stranger to him. Corazon, mother of Rosa and grandmother of Raphael and Lita, is killed in the crossfire in her own kitchen. Out of bullets, Scan tries to escape while using Rosa as a human shield, but she pleads with him to let her go . . . and he does, after which he's shot dead. Raphael and Lira witness the killing of their grandmother and Sean. They are grateful to be alive, as is Rosa, although everyone is sorry about Corazon--even Don Pepe's gunman. Tedious, convoluted, pompous. Garland's narration is so oblique that his story doesn't even begin to cohere until the very last chapter--which, it must be said, does little to justify the effort of reading him.