This is Jackson Burgess' second novel (his first: Pillar of Cloud, a superior western) and it describes a man's encounter with the complexities of moral experience. Robbie Merrill is a supposed calm, detached, Southern first sergeant in an ordnance company stationed in Italy at the end of the war. The corruption and moral rot of the company becomes epitomized for him by a single incident -- which alters his attitudes and character. One of the town's whores, pregnant, is raped and brutally beaten by a group of soldiers whom she refuses to name. Except for Merrill, everyone involved, from the lax, flabby officers to the frightened girl herself, chooses to deal with the situation as one of life's meaningless facts beyond coping with significantly. But Merrill forces the issue, turning his men against him, breaks down the girl who, unable to bear the articulated horror of her experience, sets fire to the harvested wheat near the ammunition dump. But even this falls short of the holocaust Merrill feels it should be and he retires from the scene, totally exhausted and finally relieved of what was always a dubious responsibility. The Atrocity is subtle and intellectualized but Robble Merrill's tilting at windmills is more pathetic than lofty.