Charles Taylor, a Marine major, arrives in Saigon for his second tour of duty, not this time with ""I"" Corps in combat but to work with the ""Phoenix Program,"" an undercover joint American/South-Vietnamese operation that ferrets out VC collaborators, black marketeers, and drug smugglers. It's not high-minded work, and when Taylor finds himself quickly managing the murder-by-choking of a VC informer one night, he realizes that he's probably the right man for this ugly job. But seeing the gross ARVN guys happily torture women is a little much even for him; and though Taylor's no creampuff (""We may not be allowed to win, but I'm going to do my damndest to make sure some people won't be around to celebrate my whipping""), matters are complicated considerably when he falls in love with Ly, the woman teaching him Vietnamese. So it's the case of a good man in a filthy situation--and first-novelist McQuinn does all he can with it: solid descriptions of Saigon life; accurate renditions of Vietnamese pidgin-English; a plot that furnishes Taylor with a pile of moral dilemmas; and the pathos of Taylor's grief when Ly is killed by an incoming rocket fired on the Cho Lon market. But the novel never really comes alive because McQuinn is so carefully bringing up the issues for discussion, with characters too clearly set up as shades of difference: the gung-ho, amoral intelligence officer Harker; the equally amoral left-wing anti-war journalist Bardine (McQuinn has him killed in a fake operation that the patrol leader knows will be a massacre)--bad guys on both sides of the fence. Often virile and vivid, almost as often cumbersome and talky, a Vietnam novel with many of the details just right but without quite enough passionate sense of the whole picture.