Eight narrative sketches, rather in the manner of Beerbohm's Seven Men, of figures who, as Symons says, ""never fitted into any of my crime stories."" Though the opening anecdote about cadaverous columnist E. J. Bastable and Promethean dunderhead Thomas Tucker (whom Bastable keeps promoting as ""the poet of the era"") is, despite the author's disclaimer, a full-blown short story, most of the succeeding pieces are parables of social history. Symons dramatizes the decline of modern England through the unlovely lives of George Constant (""Georgie Boy"") and Rupert Loxley, who wend their way through a thicket of historical and fictional characters (including Mark Ruthven, George Orwell, and Symons himself) to climb aboard every bandwagon politics and pop sociology can harness in an attempt to carve out their niche. Even more mordantly penetrating are the more floridly self-inventing gifts of scandal-hawking widow Eva Threadfall (nÃ‰ Ella Brown) and gallery owner Rudi Picabia (nÃ‰ Bert Stubbs). Symons's characteristically acrid tone is leavened with rare flashes of sympathy for anachronistic Labour stalwart Charlie Paradon and flinty literary editor Norris Tibbs, whose vision of the future--""I see your freedom spreading like a disease....I see all kinds of nonsense called art, any daub or cartoon or children's comic book....'Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world'""--appropriately ends the book on a note of elegiac revulsion. As in the cautionary sociological parables smuggled into detective stories from The Thirty-First of February (1950) to Death's Darkest Face (1990), Symons hits his targets with deadly accuracy. Brevity and repetitiousness, though, make this a thin book for the money.