A well-bred Wasp signs up for the secret war in Laos to dabble in battle and primitive cultures. The war, of course, is more than he bargained for in this intelligent first novel by a veteran journalist. Well-connected graduate student Stephen Reaford waives any number of deferments to sign up first with the Marines and then the CIA. His weakness for adventure and his scholarly interest in primitive folk have dropped him among the Hmong tribesmen in Laos, where the busybodies of the CIA have been happily waging their own private war against the Pathet Lao. Lt. Reaford is not the first westerner on the local scene. Father Mario Vasetto, an Italian priest who is Reaford's contemporary and intellectual peer, has been at work for months putting his own social and religious theories to the test in the village of Ban Ban. Fr. Mario is by no means pleased with Reaford's assignment, which is to turn the little town into a fortified village. After a bit of intellectual wheeling and dealing, however, an accommodation is reached by the two young men, and together they find a certain success as Vasetto's flock benefits from his medical and agricultural tips. They then help Reaford to some showy military successes. The military have also benefited from intelligence supplied by a ravishing Laotian princess who has found Reaford to be more attractive than her Hmong husband. A jealous medicine man, the Hmong husband, American political considerations, tribal customs, sex, religion, and the rapidly strengthening local insurgent movement complicate matters greatly. In the final battle for Ban Ban, the very worldly Fr. Mario heads, most reluctantly, toward martyrdom. Very well done. Scary, sexy, funny, and thoughtful. A big deal in a little backwater.