M. John Harrison, . . Night Shade, $27 (443pp) ISBN 978-1-892389-33-6

H"In some places, we're all ghosts," Harrison writes in "The Incalling," one of 24 superlative stories in this British author's first U.S. collection. From the "warren of defeated streets" between Camden Rd. and St. Pancras in London to the "glacial moraines of Stake pass, where dragonflies clatter mournfully through the brittle reed-stems," Harrison writes ghost stories without any ghosts in them. His characters typically live in the margins, or have conspired to live there through the vagaries of fate or experience. They quiver on the edge of discovering a great truth, uncovering a vast secret about the universe, or living a life previously unknown to them. Such characters are often enraptured by a vision or obsession invisible to the rest of us. The painter's precision with which Harrison works and the aversion to cliché and generic detail make his prose style hyper-real even in his most fantastical tales. "The Egnaro," "The Great God Pan," "Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring" and "The Neon Heart Murders" are particularly brilliant and compare favorably with the work of any fiction writer in the world, whether genre or mainstream. Wise, unflinching, precise, these stories immerse us in a world we thought we knew but that stands revealed by turns as richer, starker and more complex. (Jan. 7)

Forecast:The publisher hopes to reach both genre and mainstream readers (the Picasso art on the dignified dust jacket will cue the latter), but it will take some high-profile reviews for Harrison to break out. China Miéville's introduction and Harrison's connection to the British 1960s New Wave will at least help ensure serious attention from readers of literary fantasy.