Book Review: The Vintage Caper, Peter Mayle

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My wife and I enjoy our family time, but it leaves few opportunities for adult conversations.  We sometimes make up for this by reading to each other, each of us alternating chapters, from a book of mutual interest.  We don’t do this often, but it was something we did on our honeymoon, where we were joined by Ruth Reichl (brought to life through her book, Garlic & Saphires…)  and we’ve enjoyed it ever since.

When Peter Mayle’s latest book – The Vintage Caper – arrived in the mail, my wife said “I was just about to buy that for you!”  I’m an unabashed (i.e., slightly jealous) fan of Peter Mayle’s writing as well as his life in France. His descriptions of French wine, food and culture are masterful works born of his keen observations and engaging storytelling ability. An imaginative reader can easily picture Mayle telling his story with a twinkle of delight in his eye.

Click to see all Mayle's works.

Sadly, the same is not true of his fictional works.  I’ve read four of them over the years (yes, you’d think I’d learn by now) and none capture the same zest as his delightful observational works.  His fictional stories are formulaic and unnatural, as if he finds writing such things dreary work.  My wife described his view of women as “a little backwards”, though I tend to excuse him his shortcomings, as his world view was set by his coming of age in the world of 1960’s advertising (I easily imagine him as a copywriter from Mad Men).

By contrast, he seems to find writing about life in France a more joyful way to spend his day.  I can hardly blame him, frankly.  Any Francophile or food lover is well rewarded by a full collection of these delightful books.

His non-fiction track record continues with his latest mystery, The vintage Caper.  With its dual setting in L.A. and Marseilles and its story of thievery in one of the world’s best cellars (ripped from the headlines, as they say), we REALLY wanted to enjoy this book.  Instead we found it only partly engaging.

Wine fans will appreciate his description of the wines and cellars as well as some choice cafe settings – the accuracy of his painstakingly researched wine notes is unsurpassed.  But the characters themselves were thinly developed and barely believable.

If you’re thinking of shelling out a few hard-earned shekels for “Vintage Capers” I encourage you to click instead on Mayle’s image, above – that will take you to a complete listing of his works.  Try instead any of his non-fiction stories about life in Provence, and your rare and treasured hours reserved for reading will be much more enjoyably spent.

Happy Reading!

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