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.