Onyx reviews: The Vintage Caper by
Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence, brings back Sam Levitt, a
roguish former crook who now works as an insurance investigator, to track down
500 bottles of Bordeaux wine stolen from the cellar of self-absorbed Hollywood
lawyer Danny Roth. Not satisfied with simply owning a collection worth three
million dollars, he arranges to have his cellar profiled in the L.A. Times,
which is essentially an invitation to thieves.
The case soon takes Sam to France, where he spends a few days in Paris, a few
days in Bordeaux, and a few more in Marseille on a tour
gastronomique while following the clues. His investigative partner from Knox
Insurance's French office is delightful
young Sophie Costes, whose fatigues-wearing journalist cousin knows all the inner workings
The book is a gentle caper that doesn't rely too heavily on logic. The clues
that take Sam to France are thin, and the culprit isn't much of a mystery for
most of the book. More attention is spent on local cuisine and vintages than on
clever detection. Mayle, a British expatriate who has lived in France for years,
clearly adores his adopted country. Marseille especially is painted
lovingly, despite the city's shabby reputation in the rest of France.
If there's a romance to be found in the book, it is between Sam (read: Mayle)
and France, rather than Sam and Sophie, who is engaged to be married. They form a
strong investigative alliance, but there is never any question of an affair
d'amour. Besides, Sam is still pining for his boss and ex-girlfriend, Elena, at Knox Insurance.
The set piece of the book is a grand tour of the castle-like estate of
billionaire Francis Reboul, the so-called King of Marseille, whose caviste
has organized the man's enormous wine collection like a small city beneath the
Palais du Pharo, complete with a golf cart to traverse its enormous span.
Sam's solution to the conundrum is hardly conventional, but once conceived
comes off without a hitch or any real sense of tension. It seems that Mayle has
more intrigue in store for Sam Levitt, though, as the novel ends with the
promise of a yet another caper.
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