Echoes of Waco, Heaven's Gate, and Jonestown combine with intimations of apocalypse in a stunningly evocative story of life in a remote Australian hell-hole--a place where evil is as pervasive as the heat, goodness as rare as rain. Australian writer Hospital (The Last Magician, 19, etc.) sets her morality tale in Outer Maroo, a town in a hot, arid region where droughts are common and a sinister, moistureless fog often covers the land. It's a place so remote that it's not even on the maps, yet its soil is riven with opal seams. These opals, and the isolation, attract folks ""who are always waiting for retribution to catch up with them""--including the charismatic Oyster, who founds a commune (Oyster's Reef) just outside of town. Gradually, he begins to attract idealistic young people; they come as disciples, but soon find themselves digging for opals and catering to Oyster's increasingly bizarre needs. A chorus of voices recalls his lethal effect on Outer Maroo--how he corrupted many of the locals, offering them wealth and freedom from a government they viewed as intrusive, and how a teacher was among those brutally murdered for opposing him. Oyster's reign ended, appropriately, in an apocalyptic fire in which he and most of his followers perished. Only the good--Mercy, a young girl Oyster raped; Ethel, a local Aborigine; Jess, a former surveyor; Major Miner, a veteran and former POW; plus Nick and Sarah, two ""foreigners"" searching for their lost children--survive. These are the people who now recollect the corruption and destruction of Outer Maroo and their discovery of a kind of redemption after Oyster's end--and a chance to build a shining city of faith. A deep and harrowing journey through a desolate land into the recesses of the soul and then back into the light, all recorded in luminous prose.