September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

This mesmerizing collection of short stories shows the literary jockey at the top of his game. Employing the best monikers since Dickens (Tricksy Wilcox, who ”had brought unemployment to a fine art”; pickpocket Blisters Schultz; auctioneer Peregrine Vine) along with galloping plots and O. Henry endings, Francis handles the short form with ease, allowing him to focus his plots with a keen eye and more surely home in on his mostly sleazy characters. Whether it’s an elegy for a sportswriter on the skids or the ballad of a Welsh groom and her social-climbing daughter, the stories in Field of Thirteen linger long after you turn the page. A

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