Hebden--a.k.a. adventure-novelist John Harris and military-novelist Max Hennessy (see Blunted Lance, above)--wrote some lively action-mysteries starring Colonel Mostyn a few years back. But this is the first appearance here (though the third in the series) for Hebden's Inspector Evariste Pel, a broody, 40-ish bachelor cop in France's Burgundy region: he can't give up smoking; he loathes his TV-addicted housekeeper; he can't seem to get anywhere with his latest lady friend. And here he has a dense tangle of cases to deal with. There's the theft of a priceless 16th century panel from a church. There's the murder of an engineering draftsman. (Was he involved in the church robbery . . . or industrial espionage . . . or . . . ?) And, in the background, Pel keeps hearing the two current big news stories: a brothel scandal involving a French cabinet minister; and the annual running of the Tour de France bicycle race. Will all these matters somehow link up in a finale involving the last lap of the race? Yes indeed--and to manage this Hebden throws in a visit to Scotland Yard, the assassination of a British official, the search for a tiny secretweapon of international importance (its inventor is murder victim #3), and terrorismby-letter bomb. Still, if all this seems more than a little contrived, it's mostly intriguing and endearing-with suave chat about French politics, attractive art-history, a large cast of sharply-sketched eccentrics (including a sexy art expert whom Pel falls for), and a dry, mordant tone that contrasts nicely with the hyper plotting. Of limited but distinctive appeal, then (the Nicolas Freeling audience will appreciate it), and more Pels will certainly be welcome.