May 19, 1997 12:00 PM

by Paige Rense

Many of the really rich, really house-proud would be loath to dis Rense, the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest. They’re not about to do anything to hurt their haciendas’ chances of being gloriously photographed and spilled across the heavy-stock pages of one of the world’s classiest publications. Surely, then, such people will read Rense’s first stab at fiction and gush.

Don’t believe a word of it. A Paige-turner this is not. Manor House, a detective story set among the well-heeled and well-housed in and around L.A., centers on the murder of Beau Paxton, the editor of a successful, prestigious Architectural Digest-like magazine. (The novel is based on real-life events of 1971 that led to Rense’s ascendancy to the top of AD’s masthead.) Whodunit? Suspects include Beau’s lover, his fiancée, the magazine’s deputy editor and its twin-brother publishers, one of whom turns to ex-actress China Carlyle and rich, suave Pierpont Tree, a Harrison Ford look-alike and amateur detective, for help in solving the crime. Paige may know her chintz, but she’s pretty chintzy about providing details that would flesh out her paper-thin characters.

Since the identity of the perp is obvious 100 pages before the end of the book, suspense has to be ruled out as a reason to read Manor House. The novel could, perhaps, be viewed as an exposé of the decorating business, but the tales of designer abuses are neither fresh nor surprising, and what satire there is lacks edge or extravagance. Still, Manor House could be used as interior decoration—just the thing to put on the coffee table when Rense comes to dinner. (Doubleday, $22.95)

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