BOOK: "A Good Year," by Peter Mayle (Knopf, $24)

TARGET AUDIENCE: People wanting some low-hassle fiction to fit in the beach bag.

QUICK TAKE: Puh-leeze -- our hero is rudely fired and that very evening learns that he has inherited an estate? Well, get used to it. You're going to have to suspend your disbelief a lot if you plan to finish Mayle's latest trip to the Provencal well.

Max Skinner's deliverance from the high-pressure world of London finance comes in the form of a run-down estate in Provence. An oenophile friend persuades him to consider producing wine there, to tap the trendy market of people who buy the output of small vineyards not for drinking but as investments. Max agrees; after all, his late uncle had dabbled -- unsuccessfully, Max believes -- in wine production. But soon there are signs of something hinky: Maybe Uncle Henry's vines were better than the old man had thought. And some people are getting undeservedly rich.

The story moves quickly, as a good beach read should, but Mayle's characters appear to have been purchased from the prefab section of some literary Home Depot. The plot has holes you could drive a Peugeot through. The romantic subplot involving Max and a local woman is nothing you'll have to hide from the kids, but our hero's reactions to women are oddly dated and seem inspired by a 1965 edition of the Playboy Advisor.

RANT: One could do without the trite national stereotypes. Is America forever to be known as the country of beautiful teeth?

RAVE: Amaze your friends with your new knowledge of "garage wines."

-- Jerry V. Haines