Second in a trilogy (see The Danger Tree, 1977), this vivid and poignant novel adds new colors to Manning's acute portraits of Cairo's British civilians and military in their desperate alliances before and during the battle of Alamein. ""The climate,"" muses Harriet Pringle, ""changed people; it preserved the dead, but it disrupted the living."" And the erratic stops and starts and turnabouts of Harriet's acquaintances, a small but restless group, are an odd complement to the stolid movements of the desert war machines. Harriet herself is increasingly uneasy about the staying power of her marriage to professor Guy. Simon Bouldstone, whose beloved brother has recently been killed, hungrily returns to action as a liaison officer (""Hugo's death. . . had brought his emotional life to a close""). Lady Angela, whose small son has been killed by a hand grenade, conducts a frenzied affair with a seedy teacher-poet. And beautiful Edwina swears enduring love for a peer who has no intention of marrying her. Officials, officers, refugees, and academics move from night club to night club amid rumors from the battlefields; and eventually Harriet--fed up with sight-seeing, tragedy, sickness, and her growing despair--plans to leave for England. But a foreboding turns her back from the ship--which is indeed doomed--and instead she will cross the Sinai with a friend for ""all the wonders of the Levant."" Again Manning's descriptions of the war maneuvers are arresting, and the scenery moves into the soul.