One of the big questions apart from the one about the existence of God is the challenge about the truth.
What is real and who is on your side? Those two things focus the mind of all the main characters as the war starts to fall apart around them.
James Houston follows his brother back home after losing perspective so dramatically he kills a woman and tried to blow up some green berets. He is sent home, something that is almost like a prison sentence for someone addicted to the killing and lawlessness of fighting in Vietnam.
For Skip the news of his mother’s death is quickly followed by that of his uncle the Colonel. With the death of his protector the anti Tree of Smoke forces in the Agency start to dismantle the project with Hao the Colonel’s driver and friend happy to turn against him.
The double agent waits to find out his fortune and is saved from the German assassin’s bullet by Storm, the Colonel’s sidekick, who happily turns another Agency plan into a mess. That failure is going to be pinned on Skip, but he manages to escape and head off into Vietnam and into the dream state of a country collapsing into chaos.
But is the colonel really dead? That questions floats around, as does the idea that some of the Godless killing for kicks might face a moment when they have to face their conscience.
This is sometimes rambling and sometimes annoyingly wide in its story telling ambition shifting focus just when a character comes alive. But it is also gripping and with the colonel becoming a physical embodiment of the Tree of Smoke, confusing his own side more than the enemy, predicting where this story will go is difficult – that’s the fun.