The influences of Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22 and Louis de Bernieres’ recent Corelli’s Mandolin are rather too blatantly present in this otherwise well-constructed and quite likable second novel by poet and author Rinaldi (Bridge Fall Down, 1985). The story recounts the awkward coming-of-age of Corporal Rocco Raven, a young Brooklynite assigned to an intelligence unit based on the island of Malta, under German and Italian air attack, in 1942. Rocco is an engaging innocent, a well-meaning Candide (or Yossarian, for that matter) who can’t find the Major to whom he’s supposed to report, can’t understand the complex wheeler-dealer patois of his superior officer, Captain (later Major) Fingerly—and can’t resist the ripe erotic allure of Melita Azzard, the forthright Maltese girl who delivers and services the jukeboxes her resourceful cousin Zammit peddles to bars that cater to American and British military men. Rocco’s brief encounter with Melita, inevitably destined to end when his unit is reassigned, is charmingly portrayed—and both the wry energy and the bittersweet transience of their union are paralleled by several beguiling comic creations, including cousin Zammit’s hopeless infatuation with the reigning Miss Sicily, the combative fury of an indignant villager (Nardu Camillen) who loudly celebrates Malta’s (nonexistent) military prowess, and the paradoxical lust for life exhibited by US bomber pilot Tony Zebra, “an intuitive genius, with a nose better than radar and an uncanny knack for knocking planes down.” Yet beneath the manic comedy here runs a steady undercurrent of destructiveness: the bombs never stop falling, and the end of Rocco’s idyll looms unmistakably ahead. If Heller hadn’t existed, we might be calling this a pretty terrific novel. Then again, in a universe without Catch-22, it’s doubtful that The Jukebox Queen of Malta could even have been written.