PEL IS PUZZLED by Mark Hebden


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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.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfret, VT 05053)