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Tom Brodzinski finally decides to give up smoking, but a moment's inattention to detail becomes his undoing.
Flipping the butt of his final cigarette off the balcony of his holiday apartment, it lands on the head of his fellow countrymen, Reggie Lincoln. The elderly Lincoln is badly burnt, and since the cigarette butt passed through public space before hitting him, the local authorities are obliged to regard Tom's action as an assault, despite his benign intentions.
Worse is to follow: Lincoln is married to a native from one of the rigorous, mystical tribes of the desert interior, and their customary law is incorporated into the civil statute. In order to make reparations to Mrs Lincoln's people, Tom will have to leave his family behind and carry the appropriate goods and chattels deep into the arid heart of this strange, island continent....