Books: Showing the Flag

THE SAND PEBBLES (597 pp.)—Richard McKenna—Harper & Row ($5.95).

"Hello Ship," Jake Holman whispers reverently to the U.S.S. San Pablo the first time he reports aboard. His new Navy messmates fondly call their ship the "Sand Pebble," and come equipped with the kind of melting-pot surnames—like Stawski and Shanahan—preferred in U.S. service epics. The ship is on duty in the exotic China of 1925, when warlords pillaged the land and the Western powers protected their trading rights with garrisons and gunboats.

All this gives promise of, nothing more than a predictable tapestry of hairbreadth hurry and Navy derring-do, suitable for eventual framing...

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