I do love a comic escapade. And, I love a bit of armchair travel. Peter Mayle's The Vintage Caper (2009) combines both. Mr. Mayle is best known for his true tales of relocating from England to sunny Provence, France. This is the first of his novels that I have read.
The plot has to do with the theft of three millions dollars' worth of wine from the personal cellar of Hollywood attorney - and royal pain - Dan Roth. When the insurance company gets involved we meet freelance investigator and one-time crook, Sam Levitt. Sam also happens to be a wine connoisseur and his investigations take him to Paris, the vineyards of Bordeaux, and finally, to the elaborate wine cellar of billionaire and über-patriotic Frenchman Francis Reboul in Marseilles.
Along the way Sam gets expert help from the lovely Bordeaux-native Sophie Costes and her journalist cousin Philippe. The case gets solved pretty easily and the reader is treated to descriptions of fine meals and delicious wines along the way.
I am not a wine expert and Mr. Mayle fills the pages with lots of details about vintages and vineyards. The meals he lovingly describes sent me to the fridge for a late-night snack. He even includes a recipe for cooking sea bass with fennel. (Not recommended for a midnight snack.)
His descriptions of the streets, sights, and sounds of Marseilles will have you lusting for a bowl of authentic bouillabaisse enjoyed from a terrace table while viewing a splendid sunset over the Chateau D'If.
My only quibble with Mr. Mayle's tale is that nothing wrong happened along the way. Sam and Sophie encountered no missteps which, to me, add to the fun. That is what I love about Donald Westlake's books: obstacles are always met and overcome in the most delightful manner.
I see that the likable Sam Levitt stars in a new book, The Marseilles Caper, that is coming out in July. I will look for it.