Veteran travel writer Newby makes a witty and engaging tour guide to the port cities and coastal regions of the Mediterranean, but all too often he turns off his personal voice and reads canned material we could find in Baedeker, Michelin, or even Fielding. He's at his best in Italy (Naples, Venice), where he speaks the language and knows his way around. His prose, which is always crisp and serviceable, takes on a specially earthy verve when he describes his (mis)adventures in Naples, with its homicidal drivers, its Autonomous Collective of Smugglers, its splendid horse-drawn funeral coaches, its innumerable whores (some of whom, hard-pressed by competition from male prostitutes and transvestites, have business cards pinned on their doors with the inscription PUTTANA VERA--genuine prostitute). Once outside Italy, Newby has his ups and downs. His trip through Yugoslavia and Albania is often engrossing (the colorful, highly alcoholic burial of an old lady in Slovenia, a nervous confrontation with an Albanian tour bus driver, who is actually a powerful and nasty Party spy); but thereafter, in Greece, Turkey, Israel, Tunis, Morocco, and Spain, he pads unmercifully. He inserts set pieces on the life of Ali Pasha, the bazaar in Istanbul, the harem at Topkapi, the excavations at Troy, the Pyramids, the Punic War, the Holy Week rituals in Seville, etc. As if straining to meet a page quota, he pours out information, sometimes lively, sometimes quite flat and derivative, and not always reliable (Alexander the Great did not reach ""the borders of China and Tibet,"" Ashkenazim are not all ""ultra-orthodox"" or ""usually poor""). Still, even in the duller sections Newby will show flashes of his cranky, amusing, sharp-minded self. A trim tale gone to fat.