Review 2


 I came a little late to the 'Year in Provence' phenomenon. I remember watching the 'failed' television show when it was first aired (I actually enjoyed it and thought the criticism was rather hard) and it wasn't until I ventured into the world of French property that I came across the collection of books that Peter Mayle wrote about his life in France. These were the books that launched a thousand dreamers to set up home in France, and they were the texts that others copied in their own efforts to jump on the rather lucrative bandwagon that has perhaps long gone.

 I didn't read them because I wanted to dream, and I picked up 'A Year in Provence' because I had just put down my deposit on a house (not in Provence) and was looking for books about my chosen area. These not being available, I search for books of interest on the French travel section and decided to give the Peter Mayles (my term for this genre of literature) a reading.

 So I ploughed through his three 'Provence' books (I do believe there might be one or two more but I'm not sure) enjoying his sense of humour, sense of place and sense of self-deprecation; thinking that one of the reasons for the success of 'A Year in Provence' might be the ease with which the reader can identify with Mayle and feel that his dream could easily be their dream. I loved the first, was charmed by the second, but I felt glad when I reached the end of the third. Within a couple of weeks I was eager for my Peter Mayle fix, and that is what brought me to 'The Vintage Caper'.

 After he'd written 'A Year in Provence' Mayle moved into writing a series of novels that are also set in Southern France, and while they haven't the fame of the 'Provence' book, the amount of them must mean that there is an audience out there ready to buy.

 'The Vintage Caper' is aimed at those who want to mix their love of armchair travel, their armchair enjoyment of wine and there armchair enthusiasm for crime.

 In it, an investigator with a somewhat dubious past is tasked with finding the stolen wines of a rather unpleasant Los Angeles film big shot. This leads Sam (the investigator) from his apartment in the Chateau Marmont to the Châteaux of Bordeaux where he meets the wonderful Sophie (a beautiful French colleague) before flying down to Marseille to try and locate the missing Bordeaux vintages. I'm not telling you any more because I don't want to give anyway too much.

 It's an easy read and I found it to be a good page-turner that ended before I knew it, but thinking back, I find this to be the noble trait of all the Peter Mayle books I've read. I guess that this is what makes them quite popular, but is it any good?

 Let me start by saying that it's not high literature. I found the main character to be a little too obviously drawn as though Mayle looked at other detectives and tried to take encompass most of the opposites into his lead. The connection between Sam and Sophie felt as though it had come straight out of the old 'Moonlight' television series, with its 'will they, won't they' feel.

 Once we get to Marseille I felt that the options for the outcome were quickly narrowed down and this meant that there were no real surprises for the reader, and the chief suspect was actually the guilty party. For me this meant that at the end of the story I felt a little bit cheated because I was constantly waiting for a big twist in the tail that never came.

 What I do love about the writing of Peter Mayle is a certain enthusiasm that courses through the parts of the story that deal with travelogue, food and wine. When he's on these territories there is a confidence that makes his writing flow. The descriptions of vintages and moments of wines tasted all feel as though Mayle is writing about a world he really knows well. The same is true when he deals with the various settings and the restaurant experiences that litter the book and make it such an enjoyable read.

 It's a shame that the central crime caper lacks this confidence. It quickly seems to go from start to finish without the confidence of a master crime writer to play with his characters and the expectations of his reader. Still the moments when Peter Mayle writes to his strengths are the moments that make this book still worth reading. Now I'll probably read a couple of other books before returning to the next in the series.