Twelve colorful and intriguingly exotic stories from the British-Guyanese author of Shape-Shifter (a first collection, 1991) and the highly praised novel The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1998). Though this volume commands an impressive geographical and thematic range, it is neatly (if arbitrarily) unified by its preoccupation with “spirits”: high spirits, alcoholic ones, even such literal presences as the ghost of a Third World dictator that innocently revisits (in “The President’s Exile”) the sites of his earlier triumphs and “humiliations” alike, and in so doing evokes a history of fraud, injustice, and murder. A few stories are little more than anecdotal, but even in “The Fable of the Two Silver Pens,” an O. Henry—like trick ending sets your brain buzzing; “Provenance of a Face” springs a dazzling surprise for the journalist investigating the sources of a celebrated mime’s art; and the wry “English Table Wuk” employs Princess Diana’s funeral as the springboard for a harsh study in cultural contrasts. Homesickness and deeper incompatibilities dominate such complex tales as the resonant title story, in which a well-meaning Englishman and his unillusioned Brazilian Indian wife react very differently to the attractions of Western civilization; the replete “Erzulie,” about a Canadian engineer’s Guyanese wife, a toxic-waste disaster, and a charismatic female mass murderer; and “The Sparkling Ditch,” a cautionary tale Muriel Spark might have dreamed up, wherein a stuffy oil company CEO gets a memorable comeuppance when his wife’s “irrational empathy” with a starving Nigerian boy has life-altering consequences. Best of all is “Mrs. Da Silva’s Carnival,” an agreeably wild tale of a multiethnic street festival honoring “the Rainforests” and drenched in wonderfully dippy dialogue (“Tree-frogs and lizards . . . line up for your photographs”). An irresistible book and a fine introduction, for those who need one, to one of the best new writers on the international scene.