Sand Pebbles"", a corruption of San Pablo, is the nickname of the sailors who manned an ancient U.S. gunboat in Hunan Province, China, during the Kuomintang revolution of 1925-1927. This book is the story of that crew as a whole- man who had grown soft and then were caught up in a bitter ideological war which would not permit them to do two things they can understand: kill or be killed. Every man from the captain to the lowest coolie is drawn in detail with sympathy and understanding; but special emphasis is given one sailor, Jake Holman, a loner who has his private wars to win and lose against the broad canvas of China's grim awakening to nationalism, and who grows to learn that people can be as real as the machinery he loves. Jake as a hero will inevitably attract comparison to the main characters of From Here to Eternity just as the San Pablo story has parallels to The Caine Mutiny. The comparison will not diminish this since Mr. McKenna's first novel is a fine, bold, well-written book, inclusive and just in its concepts, memorable in character and incident, and fearlessly impartial in its delineation of the incompatible sets of values held by the men on all sides (Chinese, missionaries and merchants as well as military men) who made the history on which it is based. And the story itself is highly exciting.