William Barrett (The Left Hand of God, Lilies of the Field) is one of those unpredictable authors whose books are either very, very good or very, very bad, and his performance seems to have little to do with the subject upon which he chooses to write. His recent biography of Paul VI, for example, left much to be desired (to say the least). The present work, however, despite the limited nature of the subject, is Barrett at his best; it makes the reader wish that the author had expended his energies on a subject more within the range of general interest. Red Lacquered Gate is a history of the Columbans, a Catholic missionary society which-- until it was expelled by the commists--was very active in China, at will as in Africa and South America. Despite the proved appeal of the author's and the high quality of this book, it is difficult to believe that readers, other than the Columban Fathers themselves, will be tempted to seek out a work of such narrow scope.