An isolated British garrison falls prey to the 1857 Sepoy rebellion. The native Indian mutineers never really figure in this semicomic tapestry of colonial types: the image is rather that of black insects swarming over a white body. (When this literally happens to one Englishwoman her young rescuers are perplexed as to whether her pubic hair is human or verminous -- Farrell's idea of a stout anti-Victorian joke.) The besieged officials sustain a teatime bravado amidst cholera and stench and swelter; their leader is an outside rationalist called the Collector, a derisory, pontificating sponsor of the Queen's Progress. Farrell's refusal to romanticize teeming India is matched by his inability to mount the least of moving insights. Like his characters, he believes in phrenology, tracing the bumps and concavities of a singular time and place without penetrating its humanity. Farrell has an admiring audience in England -- he's a good writer if never able to overcome a certain aridity -- as in the earlier novels Troubles and A Girl in the Head.