On leave from two earlier novels about the military (The Virgin Soldiers; Orange Wednesday) Mr. Thomas, whose talent remains as resilient and fresh as it was in the beginning, spends a few weeks on the South Pacific island of the Apostles. Actually it's a muddy, muggy little dump where the rainfall encourages fungus and flies and the natives truss up their privates in banana-leaves. Stopping off there are two young men: Conway who is secretly recruiting natives as jungle scouts for Vietnam; and Davies, a milder man, a family man, selling butter and fats and rather surprising himself when he falls in love with a young girl. The prospective visit of the Queen commands some sort of ceremonial and they decide to put up a sanctuary on The Love Beach for an Unknown Soldier as yet unidentified. But before this never comes about there are some remarkable scenes and characters speaking pidgin or Scottish or Yiddish (one Abe Nissenbaum who sells crucifixes), as well as the idyll of a Queen which ends in a tribal war. . . . Mr. Thomas is an inventive ironist with a discreet sense of the incongruous and this is a funny, sad, palmy, balmy book.