Book review: “The Vintage Caper” and “The Marseille Caper” by Peter Mayle

At last, non-academic reading! I finally submitted my master’s thesis last April 8 (more on that in a separate post) and after several months, I had enough time to savor reading for fun. The occasional fanfiction chapter is a pick-me-up, but somehow not as satisfying as sitting down and reading a novel. Novels that were gathering dust in my do-read pile that I’ve since finished (huzzah!):

Star Wars X-Wing: Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston
Unnatural Creatures, a short story collection curated by Neil Gaiman (he also wrote the foreword)
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle

This post is a review of The Vintage Caper and its sequel The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle. I got The Vintage Caper during Fully Booked‘s atrium sale last October but only got the chance to read it a few days ago. The Marseille Caper I got via e-book. Peter Mayle’s been one of my favorite writers ever since I read A Dog’s Life way back in high school so I had high expectations for his two newest books.

The Vintage Caper stars Sam Levitt, a former corporate lawyer turned crook turned white-collar crime consultant. He’s hired by ex-girlfriend Elena Morales of Knox Insurance to track down bottles of premiere wine and champagne worth $3 million that were stolen from their client, entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. The wine chase leads him to Paris, Bordeaux, and eventually to Marseille, France and the home of the possible thief.

The Marseille Caper starts immediately after The Vintage Caper. How immediately? The first chapter of TMC is basically a continuation of the last chapter of TVC. Sam finds himself back in Marseille with an unexpected partner. He must convince a group of bureaucrats to approve his partner’s business proposal while dodging the shenanigans caused by an unscrupulous rival.

Review of The Vintage Caper:

peter mayle - vintage caper2A cute and funny read but not up to the standards of Mayle’s previous books. The Vintage Caper features a great lineup of characters. Sam Levitt is a likeable protagonist, as are his supporting cast of Sophie (his contact in Bordeaux) and Philippe (a journalist). Even the thief is likeable! You’ll end up siding with him instead of the egotistical Danny Roth. Mayle also does an excellent job of setting up the locations such that Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille  become characters in their own right. His writing makes you feel as if you’re right there with Sam, eating spectacular food and drinking Petrus. The gratuitous vintage-dropping was lost on non-wine enthusiast me but it also served the purpose of setting the tone of the book.

So what’s the downside to the book? That would be the souffle-light plot that holds this book together. It’s rather simplistic and silly, even with the twist at the end. It definitely lives up to the definition of “caper”. It feels more appropriate to call TVC a novella instead of a novel.

Rating: 3/5 stars. Epitome of the summer beach read, best enjoyed in the shade with something alcoholic in hand.

Review of The Marseille Caper:

peter mayle - marseilles caperThe Marseille Caper fares much better compared to TVC. Everything that made TVC worth reading is also in TMC – the characters, the setting, and the breezy writing style – but amped up. It’s a more satisfying and substantial read. Lots of food and wine porn but that’s to be expected.There’s no whodunnit element so it avoids that pitfall.

However, make no mistake: this book is still light, fluffy, and is held together by copious amounts of rosé. The plot is pretty straightforward – Sam has to fool a bunch of people – but that’s it. The villains are inept, Sam triumphs over them, the end. As long as you’re not expecting a “serious” book about the hero outsmarting the villain, it’s all good.

Rating: 3.5/stars. Better than its predecessor but it’s not as if that was a difficult standard to beat.

The third book in the series The Corsican Caper will be released in May 2014.

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