This, the late Polish author's (A World Apart, Volcano and Miracle) final work, is a collection of 13 disquieting short fictions set primarily in Italy, from the present to the ancient past. Elegantly translated by Bill Johnston, these tales are-in the words of one character-a "constant mediation on death...and the power of Evil." In the title story, a remote village is haunted by the decades-old mystery of an apparent murder-suicide by two unlikely lovers. Roman authorities are baffled by the regular spike in suicides that occurs every August 15 in "The Height of Summer." In "The Silver Coffer," an antique coffer contains the secret of a medieval monk's fratricide and supposed penance. An "atmosphere of mystery" pervades the collection, less of the supernatural than of the "mystery of every heart," which the author will not subject to what one character calls the "superficial observation" of "psychological analysis." Surfeited in literary allusion to 19th-century horror stories (notably the works of Poe and "The Turn of the Screw"), Herling's collection is more elegiac than macabre, a work of "mortal agony ending with a triumph over death."