Patrick O'Brian's success as a historical novelist and his distinction as a translator have made some people forget that he first established his reputation as a writer of short stories. The present collection confirms his place in the front rank of contemporary short-story writers. His mastery is shown in the sheer excellence of the writing and the effortless variety of mood and tone. The Virtuous Peleg is enchantingly funny: A Passage of the Frontier and The Chian Wine in different ways exciting and terrifying; The Rendezvous and On the Wolfsberg quiver with disquiet. And nowhere in contemporary fiction have the passions aroused by field sports been better portrayed than in The Curran wood Badgers, The Long Day Running and The Last Pool. But of all the stories it is The Handmaiden that delivers most perfectly the concealed coup de grace that only the master-craftsman can bring off. Of the seventeen tales here printed, six appear for the first time. Nearly all the others have been extensively rewritten. The author is now at work on a biography of Picasso, to which he brings not only his gifts as a writer but the first-hand knowledge of the French, Spanish and Catalan background, physical, cultural and linguistic, that enriches the present book.