Another collection of short stories by one of Britain's widest-ranging writing talents: Raphael has produced everything from teleplays like The Glittering Prizes to biographies of Byron. The bitter mood and abundant bons mots are as predictably Raphaelian as are the character types: smooth-talking Film producers, earnest writers seduced by fast-buck motion-picture projects, pudgy public-school bullies, Cambridge bright lights, literary duelists, and here and there the random woman--somebody's mother or wife. However, in the most successful forays, Raphael ventures outside his familiar turf to describe, for instance, the day Franco drives through a village in southern Spain, and how the mayor prepares to receive him; a young bride who whines for money from her parents in England to pay the rent in Jamaica, then discovers a way to appease the landlord herself; or the dangerously wounded pride of a rejected lover in a brief dialogue piece called ""The LaSt Time."" As always, Raphael is at his best when putting clever words in his characters' mouths, when delivering quick cameos etched in cyanide (Annie France in ""Standards"": "". . .no limpet ever had more independence than Annie""), or when turning the knife at the end of a story and pulling it out dripping with malice or envy. Many stories here, though, are marred by verbal showiness and contrived final twists, and one might wish that on occasion Raphael's people showed a bit more self-awareness or genuine, healing humor, as opposed to the caustic kind. As is, the collection is markedly one-note, and thus likely to appeal only to those with the same taste of bile in their throats.