From a young Irish writer now living in London: a highly uneven, modestly promising short-story collection. The best of these twelve brief pieces (the entire volume runs only a little over 100 pages) are the least thematically ambitious ones. In ""First Snow of the Year,"" Healy deftly sketches in a village knot of jealousy and feuds--through overlapping vignettes on the day of a funeral: a neat, tense little fugue. In ""The Tenant,"" a newcomer to a gossipy town--cashier at the bank, a repressed bachelor--tries desperately to avoid the sort of scandal that ruined his predecessor. And in ""The Curse,"" a lad is lured into delivering a foul message to a barmaid--by the false promise of a chance to ride a posh horse. In such simple vignettes, Healy displays a lean narrative knack, a feel for understated irony, and occasional flashes of sure insight. Elsewhere, however, in more ambitious stories, the effects become labored, sometimes with lapses into ineffectual prose-poetry: a contrasting study in ""Love"" (a lovestruck teenager's unrequited passion, his sister's coarse sex-play); the title story-with a Northern Ireland family trying to escape from the legacy of ""Troubles,"" in music and on a vacation south; ""Blake's Column,"" a severely overextended study of a journalist whose personal misery is channeled into his edgy prose. And the shortest pieces--one or two pages long--fail to work either as telling anecdote or intense, single-moment evocation. Erratic craftsmanship, then, with less vivid place-and-time ambience than you'll find in such other young Irish story-writers as Desmond Hogan or Belfast-born Bernard MacLaverty--but a varied, occasionally impressive debut nonetheless, especially when Healy's distinct talent for multi-voiced, overlapping drama surfaces.