Monday, June 20, 2011

The Vintage Caper

A friend of mine used to have a second job in a movie theater.  A few times a year, he'd tell us what lobby posters were available and he'd get them for us - I've got Casino Royale and A Perfect Year hanging in my living room.  While it's nice to see Russell Crowe in a sunbeam as soon as I walk in my front door, that's not why I wanted that poster - I'm a big fan of Peter Mayle.  20 years ago, my mom handed me Tojours Provence and I was hooked.  Mayle has crisp, descriptive writing style and a dry sense of humor - and he appreciates good food.

Movie producer Danny Roth has a problem.  It's not that he's totally repellant (apparently, that's beneficial to his career), but that no one appreciates his sophisticated palate and his multi-million dollar wine collection.  Naturally, he arranges for the LA Times to do a puff piece on his collection, and equally naturally, someone steals it while he's skiing in Aspen.  Elena Morales, the VP for private claims at Knox Insurance calls her ex-flame, lawyer-turned-criminal-turned-investigator (and all-around connoisseur) Sam Levitt look into the theft.  Sam's a typical Mayle hero - charming in a roguish sort of way and attracted to brilliant and witty  women who just happen to be incredibly attractive.  After a consultation (over a gourmet meal, of course) with a friend in the LAPD, Sam flies to France, meets Sophie Costes from Knox's French office, and Sophie's journalist cousin Phillipe.  Together, they conclude that Roth's wine was stolen by a media magnate I can only describe as a French Burlesconi and devise a suitable resolution.

The Vintage Caper isn't Mayle's best novel (that would be Hotel Pastis), because it's much too routine.  Sophie is suitably sophisticated and Phillipe is suitably rumpled, and at times the plot seems to be an excuse to string together a series of meals.  The meals, though, are fabulous - Mayle may have lightly lifted some dishes from his travel writing, but these meals are worth repeating - the plot holds together, and Mayle's dialogue is (as always) brisk and witty.  I read the final few pages on the train one evening, and smiled so broadly that my seat mate asked what I was reading.

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