Peter Mayle is back with a non-threatening, delicious mystery that opens in opulent, nouveau riche Hollywood and rapidly transitions to Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles. It’s always about fine wine and it’s always about the South of France for Mayle and that’s fine. In The Vintage Caper, we witness a multimillion-dollar wine heist, the game plan of a philanthropic and egotistical billionaire, the seedier alleyways of Marseilles, the Mediterranean rendition of a McMansion with a wine cellar as capacious as a small town, and plenty of illegal activity that must be outwitted but never really threatens.
Mayle’s books are comforting in that a reader is certain his likable characters will come to no serious harm. That does remove any possibility for edge-of-the-chair chapters but it’s okay. You can actually relax reading a oenophile’s romp through vintages and cellars and tastings and spectacular scenery.
Danny Roth is a repugnant entrepreneur and collector with a $3 million-dollar cellar of rare Bordeaux. Elena Morales is a claims adjuster at Knox Worldwide, the unfortunate insurers of the Roth collection which has been removed from its premises sans permission by the end of chapter one. Sam Levitt is a private eye who lives at the Chateau Marmont and was once involved with Elena. Sophie Costes is a knock-out wine insurance expert in Bordeaux who speaks excellent English and shepherds Sam around wine country. Francis Reboul is the unofficial king of Marseilles, a self-made gazillionaire who restores a crumbling estate overlooking the harbor and is the city’s biggest booster.
How the rather thin plot spins out holds no real surprises but, as always, the meals are described in loving detail, the wine is catalogued expertly, the women are savvy and irresistibly attractive, the men poke around and uncover clues that lead to a resolution of the crime, and the end is a graceful cover-up that harms no one and acknowledges all the players in an international game of intrigue and skill. Rainy afternoon read. The Vintage Caper is vintage Mayle. Read it while sipping a glass of decent Bordeaux.
The Vintage Caper Peter Mayle | Alfred A. Knopf 2009