Wine and crime in Mayle’s France
When entertainment lawyer Danny Roth’s secretary finagles him an interview with the Los Angeles Times so he can showcase his impressive wine collection, Danny is over the moon. Alas, his newfound celebrity in the wine world soon curdles into sour grapes when hundreds of bottles of his prized Bordeaux are stolen from his wine cellar.
Thus kicks off Peter Mayle’s sixth novel, The Vintage Caper, a tale that flows as smoothly as the fine wines frequently referenced in the book. When Danny files a claim for $3 million, Sam Levitt is assigned to the case, and it’s up to him to try to recoup Danny’s losses. Sam’s sleuthing takes him on a food and wine snob’s dream sojourn, touching down in Paris and then making his way to the heart of France’s wine country in Bordeaux and Marseille. To help him in his investigation, Sam is paired with Sophie Costes, a quintessentially French foodie, which makes for an intoxicating and irresistible combination.
It is upon reaching France that Mayle’s writing really begins to soar; his prose bubbles with the pertness of a fine champagne and teems with sumptuous delights. Little wonder, as Mayle resides in the south of France and is perhaps best known for his memoir chronicling some of his time there, A Year In Provence. Mayle’s mastery of language is reflected in his sophisticated, eloquent prose, which elevates A Vintage Caper from your run-of-the mill crime novel into something a little more satisfying; he shows that sometimes it is not enough to simply write what you know, but you must instead write what you love. In truth, the delights of this latest offering are not really in discovering who absconded with the wine, but instead lie in the delectable descriptions of the food and the insightful commentaries on French culture. Of course, Mayle’s story has as many unexpected twists as the wending streets of France that are featured throughout the novel, making this one countryside romp that will both thrill and transport oenophiles and armchair travelers alike.
Cathy Shouse is a writer in Fairmount, Indiana.