November 15, 1993 12:00 PM

by Peter Mayle

The citizenry of the Loire Valley is probably already très irrité with Mayle for overpopularizing the region he wrote about so winningly in A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence. His very slight, sometimes charming first novel, set guess where, will do little to reverse the trend.

The perennially rumpled Simon Shaw is not a happy-man. Newly divorced, he is director of an immensely successful British ad agency, has buckets of money, swell cars and a superb valet who runs his bath and his life. But Simon is worn to the nub by the gray London days, the endless drudgery-of making nicey-nice with clients and soothing temperamental colleagues. Desperate for a change of scenery, he drives to the South of France. When his Porsche, expensively injured on a country road, strands him in a region known as the Luberon, he meets a blond divorcée who lures him into a change of careers: hôtelier.

Simultaneously, a small-lime crook fresh out of prison is hatching a plot to rob the local bank. Mayle’s strength lies not in his ability to create characters—many of the novel’s cast members are stereotypes—or to tell a story (the plot has a cobbled-together feeling) but in his asides and observations. “Polo, of course, was the ultimate hobby for the socially ambitious advertising man,” he notes. “Ruinously expensive, upper-class accoutrements, and with any kind of luck, a chance to be on swearing terms with royalty.” And once again in Hotel Pastis, Mayle makes Provence sound like the most enticing place this side of paradise. Reservations anyone? (Knopf, $23)

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