Stanley Ellin's second straight novel, as distinguished from his superior suspense stories, is just as potent and it is filled with many arcane, primitive and startling points of interest which are cheerfully equalized by its central character-a nice, naive young American. Ben Smith, pleasantly unambitious, is sent by his firm to the island of Santo Stefano off Peru to look for a ""nonpolitical rock lobster"" for his company. The pervasive native industry there is guano (bird droppings) but its more interesting feature is its local festa brava which dates back several centuries and features a hanging ceremony in which the voluntary entrants can test their courage on the gallows in the ultimate experience. Once there, in the weeks before the contest, Ben is sponsored by the island's first family, guano king Bambas-Quincy and his daughter, the ethereal Infanta Elissa; he is also involved with the only other Americans, David Chapin- an artist, his wife, and his agent, who are searching for a now fabulously valuable Panama portrait- reputedly painted by Gauguin. But it is of course the ritual spectacle itself which breaks the chain of events here and Chapin, fascinated by its timeless challenge, is a ludicrously tragic figure on the ropes.... A spellbinder, sophisticated, barbaric, and hypnotic.