Stone constructs sharp, fascinating characters. Contributing to the immediacy of the human action he portrays is the fact that Stone himself experienced some of the violence that his characters do. While visiting Israel and the occupied territories during the height of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising, Stone and his wife were themselves caught up in a riot while riding in company with a United Nations official. They saw smoke and tear gas, heard men shouting and women ululating, and observed a boy with a fatal head wound being carried away on the shoulders of his friends. Lucas, Sonia, and their friends take the same ride and experience the same frenzy and atrocity.
Stone uses spare but meaningful detail in his characterization. His hero, Chris Lucas, is, like most Stone protagonists, a weak and flawed man, a searcher, an outsider. Had he been more sure of himself, he would have opted to follow the trail of the more volatile story in the Gaza Strip that he rejects, though his research on religious mania brings him into just as much danger. Lucas broods, is restless and rootless, and has difficulty committing to anything. The two main women in the story, Sonia and Nuala, are passionate, independent, strong-willed, and elusive. Lucas seeks to possess them both but fails. Sonia opts not for a life with Lucas but for a life of poverty, social action, and human rights work in a Third World country; they both know that Lucas requires more security and comfort than she does. Sonia simply and forthrightly decides to embrace fanatical religion, tries to convert Lucas, and gives up both efforts when she sees that they are ineffectual. Lucas seems incapable of committing to any belief system, and the novel ends with him as religiously confused as when it began. Nuala not only rejects any romantic passes from Lucas but also pretends at one point that they are strangers; she finally and permanently eludes him by being captured and hanged.