MONSIEUR PAMPLEMOUSSE ALOFT A Gastronomic Mystery<i> by Michael Bond (Fawcett/Columbine: $14.95; 160 pp.) </i>

In this frolicking tale of good taste, Monsieur Pamplemousse, known primarily for the sophistication of his palate, his culinary prowess and his prodigious knowledge of good food and wines, is pressed into service to provide an extraordinary meal for an extraordinary occasion. Accompanied by his faithful canine companion, Pommes Frites, who shares his love of food as well as his astounding ability to sniff out mystifying situations, Pamplemousse sets out to create an unforgettable meal for statesmen celebrating Anglo-French detente aloft in a blimp. In the course of his labors, he stumbles onto two horrors--which is worse?--an attempted murder and disastrous cooking. In the end, Pamplemousse manages to save the reputation of Le Guide, France’s most prestigious restaurant directory, while unearthing clues to solve a most unsavory plot against the French and British governments.

In this, the fifth of the Pamplemousse gastronomic mysteries, Michael Bond (also author of the Paddington Bear stories) has produced a thoroughly delightful story, filled with whimsical situations and mouth-watering meals, all of which we, the readers, devour eagerly. As in all good “gimmick” mysteries, the running device--French stereotype--is endlessly and wittily varied, ensuring that the Pamplemousse adventures have not yet petered out.

The story begins when the director of Le Guide explains to Pamplemousse that all arrangements for the detente voyage of the dirigible have been made--except for food. “Imagine the atmosphere aloft,” he moans, “if 1300 hours came and went and there was no sign of dejeuner . It would be icy in the extreme. Entente would be far from cordiale. Had the arrangements been made in Angleterre one might have understood . . . but for La Belle France to make such a cardinal error . . . " To provide proper sustenance becomes the task of Monsieur Pamplemousse.

But complications ensue which conspire to keep Pamplemousse awake at night (“He tried counting sheep, but that only made matters worse. They all wore frilly collars, the kind used to decorate roast crown of lamb”). Events surprise Pamplemousse in the embrace of the circus woman, Madame Caoutchouc, whose pneumatic alligator and astonishing parts (“caoutchouc” is French for rubber) put him on the trail of the perfidious villain.