Twenty-eight stories and sketches (1896-1935) by the acid-tongued author of the peerless Lucia novels. Adrian aptly notes that Benson's ``sharpest stings were dabbed into the fabric of a story rather than sprung all at once at the end,'' and the best of these pieces--chronicles of society hostess Amy Bondham and her rivals and kindred spirits (including the title story, an exploit of Lucia's archrival Miss Elizabeth Mapp) duelling for the most deliciously trivial social advantages--display a continuous stream of waspish invention. The genuine malice underlying these battles comes out more directly in four ``Crank Stories'' and four ``Cruel Stories'' that destroy their subjects with pitiless humor. Benson's early tales about the social and marital triumphs of Dodo, along with three fantasies collected as ``Odd Stories,'' are less successful, presumably because his whimsical imagination required the more severe discipline of his later social comedies--or of his ghost stories, especially ``Sea Mist,'' the concluding story here, and one whose power, like that of the Lucia stories, depends less on surprise than on seeing one's nastiest wishes so elegantly fulfilled. An uneven collection, then--but the half-dozen best of these will delight Lucia-lovers and other Tillingites.