The book finally takes off and it is the novel that you hoped it would be when you opened the first page.
The year is 1968 and the Vietcong are making their Tet offensive and all of the main characters are dragged into the fighting with the main focus being on the young infantryman James Houston.
Skip has faded into the background and the colonel is breaking up much in the same way his political class is back in the US. He cannot understand anymore anything other than the search for a breakthrough and the killing.
Likewise Houston has gone past a barrier by killing a man and entering into the world of kill and move where living is by instinct rather than by any real design. He seems to have become remote from the world of his mother and signs up for a second tour and is immersed in the fighting.
Johnson manages to convey in just a few pages just why those that fought in Vietnam were unable to come home and just forget about it. The horror of a situation where mass confusion is accompanied by death and destruction makes the life of working in a normal job something so remote it could be happening on another planet.
With the characters coming alive and the action moving up several gears this book has taken 300 pages to reach it but at last some of the blurb on the dust jacket seems to be justified. You finally realise what the Tree of Smoke is as it refers to a plan to use a double agent to plant disinformation back into North Vietnam.