Lumpy, often sentimental, and cast like a Hollywood movie--the ghetto black, the Harvard dropout, the Southern white lieutenant--Webb's first novel lacks the shapely sophistication of more literary Vietnam novels or the verbal spinerattlingness of Michael Herr's Dispatches. But it still does that effectively unsettling thing without which a war novel totally wilts: it kills its characters off with suddenness, without warning--and that's it, they're gone, dead, blown away or mutilated or medevac-ed out by helicopter. Webb pays little attention to background or foreground, to giving the soldiers any more life than they can wrest from the mud and noise and fear around them; he puts us in the paddies with the grunts and makes us share their overwhelming sense of randomness. Wearing a stiff upper lip politically (the Harvard kid is the weakest soldier, and when he makes a fuss about the execution of two VC, it robs a valiant soldier of a posthumous Purple Heart) and downplaying the psychology, Webb sticks to his atmosphere--gory and fearing and solid. Look for literary comeliness elsewhere, but there's more real feel of the battleground here than in a far more ambitious and written book like O'Brien's Going After Cacciato.