Thirteen not-so-new stories from the audacious doyen of self-conscious artifice -- twelve of them dated between 1924 and 1939 from Berlin, Paris, Mentone, and portraying the proud but slightly down at the heels international community of Russian emigres. The title story -- which fulfills the narrator's vengeful dreams of assassination by its very creation -- might speak for all the aristocratic dispossessed. Nabokov's bibliographical note lays claim to the destruction, through satire, of mean spirits including Hitler and Lenin but the image of a Ruler casting a model of an 80-pound turnip in bronze sounds like no one but Joseph Stalin. A very Russian romantic irony rounds out "Lik," "The Admiralty Spire" and "A Matter of Chance," in which everything hinges on a coincidence that fate may or may not provide. These are less perverse and prankish than, say, this year's Look at the Harlequins! (p. 898), but still depend more on device than realism -- even if certain autobiographical echoes are indisputable. The spooky mysticism of "The Vane Sisters" -- last of the baker's dozen, written in English in 1951 -- is as American as Lolita and really no more than an outrageous excuse for the author to strut his stuff with an acrostic conclusion. Russian or English, early or mature, the voice and manner are cultivated, elegant and composed in that unique Nabokovian mix of hauteur and human understanding.