A taut novella and five stories from the prolific Lynds, best known as Michael Collins, the pseudonymous author of the Dan Fortune mysteries. At their best, all of the pieces here are tense portraits of communities in which social or political violence threatens the individual. The novella--the most impressive part of the collection--is about a veterinarian who, leaving his wife, moves into an apartment building that he's drawn to because of the signs that one of the tenants places in his window: ``It may happen that a nation stops distinguishing between right and wrong and that it will consider every one of its battles to be `right' but this nation already stands on a steep incline and the law of its fall is already written.'' Using such signs as emblematic chapter headings, Lynds plays the building's odd cast of characters off each other: various tenants who range from laissez-faire members of Generation X to a near-psychotic who becomes homicidal if someone takes his parking space. Of the stories, the most memorable is ``Still Life with Doc Holliday,'' about a former railroad engineer who retires to the Southwest, where he carves life-sized dolls and creates the Doc Holliday Desert Theater in a ghost town. ``Sylvestre and Dolores'' is an odd, haunting fable about two people who separately pursue their dreams of leaving their Latin American villages for greater things. The other pieces are mostly fragmentary vignettes, spare and troubling at times but finally inconclusive and even incoherent: Of these, the most satisfying is ``Albert Magnus, Father Vitanza, and the Hammer,'' where political repression and local superstition combine to defeat personal ambition and enforce conformity. Most notable for its spare mythical style and, in the novella, for its convincing portrayal of a character put upon by circumstances beyond his control and by his own stubborn nature.