A debut collection of short fictions, ingenious, moving, and exasperating in turn. At his best, as in the title story about the way in which a child's death polarizes a Welsh village, Davies exhibits a sharp, unblinking, persuasive view of human nature, as well as a deft hand at plotting: The deceptively quiet tale, somewhat distanced in its effect by the rather prissy voice of the narrator, builds to a moving climax and a haunting final image. Davies often demonstrates an uncanny ability for suggesting the outlines of character in speech: The narrator of the story, a physician and the son of the man blamed for the child's accidental death, is very convincing precisely because he seems so wilfully insensitive to the events that he's describing. The reader has to work to puzzle out what really has happened, and the labor is well rewarded. ``A Union,'' a novella tracing the course of a strike in Welsh village in 1899, rings some unusual changes on a subject often reserved for melodramas. Davies is particularly good at catching the mingled affection and resentment shaping village life, and at suggesting the ways in which events can overtake even the most cannily arranged plans. Davies also has a clear affection for these characters, a quality not noticeable in some of the other stories, including the aggressively postmodern ``Relief'' and ``Safe.'' The first deals with the survivors of the battle of Rorke's Drift, in which a Welsh company repulsed the attack of a Zulu army in South Africa. It dwells largely on flatulence, in what is meant to be a send-up of colonial icons, but the irony falls rather flat. ``Safe,'' about the hapless adventures of an aging Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, has little new to suggest about the pair and seems rather wearily referential, more concerned with the duo as hazy icons than as actual characters. Still, overall, there's sufficient energy and originality here to suggest that Davies is a writer well worth watching.