An appealingly eccentric and insouciant look at contemporary London, its new money and moribund Cockney culture, from the author of Interior (1989), etc. Tim Curtiz is an American journalist based in London, ``a poor man's Gore Vidal'' who's acquired enough celebrity through his Manhattan magazine columns to appear in American Eagle's credit card commercials along with Bernie, an elderly but ebullient Cockney actor. Another old Cockney in Tim's life is William ``Simba'' Cochrane--a destitute pensioner briefly famous in his youth for killing a marauding lion in Africa with his penknife. This humble servant of a vanished empire becomes more than a story for Tim, as does the lion (England's preeminent heraldic beast). Lions bestride Tim's consciousness--lions rampant (the London Zoo's Chaka will tie off the subplot) and lions couchant (Landseer's famous sculptures in Trafalgar Square). They cohabit oddly with Gemma, Tim's beloved small daughter; Victoria, the sexy adwoman handling the American Eagle account; and Victoria's ex-boyfriend Miles, a hotshot currency dealer whose fall from grace into a Cockney underworld Cartwright describes with relish (and with a friendly nod to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire). What you get, then, is a bumpy but enjoyable ride, moving between the zippy subplot featuring Miles, and Tim's desultory travels around town, as he sniffs out the connections between London's imperial past and polyglot present, weighs old cultural traditions (the Christmas pantomime) against weird new imports (Thai kick-boxing), and concludes that the ``real London,'' if it exists at all, has nothing to do with the fraudulent images peddled by American Eagle, in collaboration with that crafty old trouper Bernie. Despite that nod to Wolfe, this is not an attempt at a British Bonfire but a mix of straight-ahead narrative, free association, and cultural commentary--as idiosyncratic as the twitch of a lion's whiskers.