Beginning with Esmeralda, a champion truffle pig who smells of Joy, this collection of eight stories finds Durrell on a familiar anecdotal high. Fact or fiction, his tales are full of the unique tricks and deftly timed scenes that characterize his other writings, from the nun who finds her truer calling in a Monte Carlo casino to the beloved cruise captain who drops dead as his ship crosses the dateline. But, memorable as they are, the manner of their introduction has more enduring appeal. With his natural storytelling rhythm and sunny, generous stance, Durrell not only pins down the precise idiosyncrasies of his unlikely subjects (the devoted Greek friend who swears ""My lips are seals"") but validates them as well, allowing, for example, the former hangman rattled by his past to confront the men he executed before determining his own death. In the title story, Gerry and his siblings at a younger age, endowed with the same dubious qualities they've had in previous appearances, try to arrange a wildly inappropriate match for their widowed mother; she responds with a vastly superior scheme of her own. In another piece, a perpetually cursing parrot inadvertently hastens the downfall of a wayward vicar. On two legs or four, these improbable creatures offer softened charms and certain satisfactions for old fans and newer enthusiasts.