TOUJOURS PROVENCE.Peter Mayle.Knopf.241 pages. $20. Life...


August 11, 1991|By TIM WARREN WIND-UP. Neville Steed. St. Martin's. 222 pages. $16.95.


Peter Mayle.


241 pages. $20. Life indeed is good for Englishman Peter Mayle and his wife itheir newfound home in the Provence region of France. He has four-hour lunches with Michel the wine merchant that end with Mr. Mayle, sated by rich country cooking and too many bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, passed out under a tree while the others partake in the ancient Provencal game of boules. He becomes a connoisseur of pastis, the local firewater that, a British journalist once told me, "will blacken your teeth."

All this and more of Mr. Mayle's moveable feast are featured in "Toujours Provence," a follow-up to his 1990 book, "A Year in Provence." Mr. Mayle writes wittily on almost everything, appreciates a great deal and criticizes almost nothing.

Yet all this quaintness and sunniness wears, and one longs for a more complete picture of Provence, something as wonderfully evocative as M. F. K. Fisher's writings (admittedly a tall order). There is little in Mr. Mayle's writings that suggests, to use Richard Bernstein's phrase, "the rusty nails of traditional French xenophobia, anti-foreign hatred, and racism." Provence has had trouble assimilating North African immigrants, but we know nothing of this in Mr. Mayle's two books. No, he is selling a fantasy to Francophiles who dream of a country that never saw a McDonald's and where honest working men discourse knowledgeably on three-star restaurants. It's a pastry, put together exquisitely for sure, but after a while I'd like the full dinner. "Wind-Up" is the fifth in Neville Steed's series of mysteriefeaturing amateur detective Peter Marklin, whose full-time profession is dealing in antique toys. Marklin's specialty is miniature reproductions of cars, trucks and military vehicles. The choicest items he sells are masterpieces of detail, which is more than can be said for this book.

If the toys in Marklin's stock were in as slipshod shape as the grammar in this novel, he'd be out of business in no time. Added to the grammatical gaffes is a host of bad puns, double entendres and ludicrously worded descriptions (my favorite: "lipstick as thick as a whore's brain").

The murder, incidentally, is that of a private collector married to a nudist. If you can't figure out whodunit, you either haven't been paying attention or you're more interested in collecting toys than solving mysteries. Maybe that explains the existence of this series, or maybe it's just one of those anomalies of British taste, like sex farces and warm beer.




Sarah Gilbert.


202 pages. $18.95.

Dixie Riggs had two dreams in her life. The first was to be a successful fashion model and the second was to marry Buck Speed. But Dixie was a friendly person -- very friendly. And she lacked the ability to say no when it came to anyone in a pair of pants. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., there was no lack of males ready to ask Dixie. Since Buck's goal in life was to be a television evangelist, marrying Dixie might not quite be the best road to fame, fortune and the 21-inch tube.

Sarah Gilbert's first novel, "Hairdo," centered around a beauty parlor, was a lighthearted and successful look at small-town life in South Carolina. Ms. Gilbert has pretty much kept the same concept in "Dixie Riggs," but the result is not nearly as much fun. Instead of a Southern white trash rollicking bedroom farce, "Dixie Riggs" is only tedious.

The main problem is that Dixie is simply not a sympathetic character. She is surprisingly brutal. Several times Dixie beats up her "friends." Sleeping with almost everyone, Dixie is utterly without morals. Dixie's ultimate triumph in the quest for her goals hardly engenders a glow of victory, but merely a sigh of relief.


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