Becker's triumph in this short novel is to show a slice of army life as it might have been and can be in any era for the foot soldiers enduring most of the risk and all of the rules that govern the military. A few pages into the story and you recognize the closing days of the Civil War, when Lt. Marius Catto was seriously, but not fatally, wounded by Thomas Martin, a teenaged Kentuckian who claimed to be a sworn member of Col. Jessee's Confederate raiders. Even Catto believed the boy, although Martin had no papers, no uniform, no arms, and no insignia to identify him as a proper soldier. So regulations defined him as a guerrilla and directed that he be shot. Catto's unit and prisoner Martin were posted to the Cincinnati barracks, where the corruption of systematic inactivity affected Catto's character and was also reflected in the disintegration of his unit which had been an effective team in battle. Martin's case was postponed once at firing squad point, but General Hooker insisted, despite the combined efforts of his staff and especially Catto, that Martin be shot. The letter of the law was carried out and, in brief sketches of the postwar careers of the men involved, Becker shows how crippling was this compliance with printed rules--the failure to allow circumstances to alter cases destroyed them all. Understated irony, characterization through dialogue, and a superb story superbly told.