Five weak, unengaging short stories bound to disappoint fans who admired the warmth, shrewdness, and careful craft of Gallacher's recent Billy Thompson series (Apprentice, Journeyman, Survivor). These connected pieces travel widely in time--from the 50's to the mid-70's--and place: Dublin, London, rural Scotland, New York, Denmark. Their narrator is the ""short, middle-aged man"" named Howard Murray who appeared as an enjoyably eccentric minor character in Survivor, and who--like Gallacher--is a playwright (he even shares Gallacher's oeuvre). Sadly enough, here on center stage, Murray is a self-conscious, rather pretentious figure, ostentatiously involved with exploring the human condition. In the title story, he rescues a young Irishman who is in an apparently catatonic state at a Dublin bus station: Martin Doyle is trying to escape his oppressive family, and all of this gives Murray material for his play, The Only Street. In both ""The Previous Tenant"" and ""Personal Effects,"" Murray continues on as existential detective (Kierkegaard is his hero). In the former, he tracks down a previous tenant of his London flat and sticks his nose into the man's business; ditto for the latter, in which he discovers that a seaman whose personal effects are delivered to him has in fact only faked suicide by drowning, in order--like Martin Doyle--to start afresh. ""To Die in Copenhagen"" is a somewhat self-aggrandizing and cloyingly worshipful remembrance of Karen Blixen, with whom Murray/Gallacher studied. Of all the stories, ""The Horseman"" works best: it shows Murray as a callow youth in search of that hoariest of theater legends--the actor who has killed another during an onstage duel. A stilted, self-involved collection, then, that could've done with a lot less Kierkegaard and a lot more P.G. Wodehouse.