The Vintage Caper

The Vintage Caper

by Peter Mayle


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The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle

A globetrotting detective story, filled with the culinary delights and entertaining characters that have made Peter Mayle our most treasured chronicler of French life.
The Vintage Caper begins high above Los Angeles with a world-class heist at the impressive wine cellar of lawyer Danny Roth. Enter Sam Levitt, former lawyer and wine connoisseur, who follows leads to Bordeaux and Provence. The unraveling of the ingenious crime is threaded through with Mayle’s seductive renderings of France’s sensory delights—from a fine Lynch-Bages to the bouillabaisse of Marseille—guaranteed to charm and inform even the most sophisticated palates.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307389190
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/13/2010
Series: Sam Levitt Series , #1
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 185,149
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 5.34(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Peter Mayle is the author of fifteen books, nine of them novels, including the beloved bestseller A Year in Provence. A recipient of the Légion d’Honneur from the French government for his cultural contributions, he lived in Provence with his wife, Jennie, for more than twenty-five years. Mayle died in 2018.

Read an Excerpt


Danny Roth took a final dab of moisturizer and massaged it into his already gleaming cranium, while checking to make sure that his scalp was innocent of any trace of stubble. Some time ago, when skin had first begun to take over from hair, he had toyed with the possibilities of a ponytail, often the first refuge of the balding man. But his wife Michelle had been less than enthusiastic. "Just remember, Danny," she had said, "underneath every ponytail is a horse's ass." That had persuaded him to embrace the billiard-ball look, and he had since been gratified to find himself in the company of several stars, their bodyguards, and assorted hangers-on.

Peering into the mirror, he studied the lobe of his left ear. He was still of two minds about an earring: a dollar sign in gold, perhaps, or a platinum shark's tooth. Either would be appropriate for his profession, but were they rugged enough? Tough decision. It would have to wait.

Stepping away from the mirror, he padded into his dressing room to choose his outfit for the day, something that would take him through a morning of client meetings, lunch at the Ivy, and a private screening in the evening. Something conservative (he was, after all, a lawyer) but with a devil-may-care touch of informality—he was, after all, an entertainment lawyer.

A few minutes later, dressed in a dark-gray suit of superfine worsted, a white open-neck silk shirt, Gucci loafers, and socks of buttercup yellow, he picked up his BlackBerry from the bedside table, blew an air kiss in the general direction of his sleeping wife, and went downstairs to the granite and stainless steel splendors of the kitchen. A pot of fresh coffee and Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the L.A. Times, provided by the maid, had been placed on the kitchen counter. The early-morning sun was up, promising another glorious day. The world was as it should be for a member of Hollywood's professional elite.

Roth could hardly complain at the hand life had dealt him. He had a young, blond, fashionably gaunt wife; a thriving business; a pied-à-terre in New York; a ski lodge in Aspen; and—the house that he considered his headquarters—a three-story steel-and-glass pile in the gated, high-security community of Hollywood Heights. It was here that he kept his treasures.

Like many of his contemporaries, he had accumulated a selection of socially impressive accessories. There were diamonds and closets full of status clothing for his wife; three Warhols and a Basquiat for his living room walls; a strolling Giacometti for his terrace; and a perfectly restored gull- wing Mercedes for his garage. But his favorite indulgence—and, in a sense, the cause of some frustration—was his wine collection.

It had taken many years and a great deal of money to put together what was, so Roth had been told by none other than Jean-Luc, his wine consultant, one of the best private cellars in town. Perhaps the best. There were the top-level Californian reds and a wide selection of the most distinguished white Burgundies. There were even three entire cases of the magnificent '75 Yquem. But the crown jewels of the collection—and the source, understandably, of great pride—were the five hundred or so bottles of premier cru claret from Bordeaux. Not only were they first-growth; they were also from the great vintages. The '53 Lafite Rothschild, the '61 Latour, the '83 Margaux, the '82 Figeac, the '70 Pétrus—these were stored in a cellar beneath the house and kept permanently at 56 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit, with an 80 percent humidity level. Roth added to them from time to time, when the odd case came on the market, but he seldom took any of these great bottles upstairs to drink. Just possessing them was enough. Or it had been, until quite recently.

Over the past few weeks, Roth's enjoyment as he contemplated the contents of his cellar had been less keen than usual. The problem was that, apart from a very few privileged souls, nobody ever saw the bottles of Latour and Margaux and Pétrus, and those who did often were not sufficiently impressed. Only last night, a visiting couple from Malibu had been given the grand tour of the cellar—three million dollars' worth of wine!—and they hadn't even bothered to remove their sunglasses. Worse still, they had then declined the Opus One served with dinner and demanded iced tea. No appreciation, no respect. It was the kind of evening that could make a serious wine collector weep.

Shaking his head at the memory, Roth paused on his way to the garage to admire the view: west to Beverly Hills, east to Thai Town and Little Armenia, south across the endless shimmering sprawl to the toy-sized planes that came and went from LAX. Perhaps not the prettiest of views, particularly when the smog was up; but it was a high view, a long view, an expensive view, and, best of all, his view. Mine, all mine, he sometimes thought to himself, especially at night when the lights below made a shining carpet that stretched for miles.

He squirmed his way into the snug confines of his Mercedes and inhaled the perfume of well-nourished leather and polished walnut. This particular model was one of the great classic cars, so old that it predated the invention of the beverage container, and Rafael, the Mexican caretaker, looked after it as though it were a museum piece. Roth eased it out of the garage and headed for his office on Wilshire Boulevard, his mind going back to his wine cellar and that dumb couple from Malibu, whom he'd never liked anyway.

From thinking about them, it was only a short mental hop to a more philosophical consideration of the joys of ?pos?session. And here, Roth had to admit that the appreciation—even the envy—of others was crucial to his own enjoyment. Where, he asked himself, is the satisfaction of having desirable possessions that others hardly ever see? Why, it would be like keeping his youthful, blond wife locked away from public view, or sentencing the Mercedes to a lifetime of confinement in the garage. And yet, here he was, keeping millions of dollars' worth of the world's finest wines in a cellar that was unlikely to see more than half a dozen visitors a year.

By the time he reached the tinted-glass box that contained his office, Roth had come to two conclusions: first, that inconspicuous consumption was for wimps; and second, that his wine collection deserved a wider audience.

He stepped out of the elevator and walked toward his corner office, bracing himself for the daily mano a mano with his executive secretary, Cecilia Volpé. Strictly speaking, she was not quite up to the job. Her spelling was lamentable, her memory frequently patchy, and her attitude toward many of Roth's clients one of patrician disdain. But there were consolations: she had the most spectacular legs, long and permanently tanned, made even longer by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of four-inch heels. And she was the only daughter of Myron Volpé, the current head of the Volpé dynasty that had pounced upon the movie business two generations ago and that still maintained considerable influence behind the scenes. As Cecilia had been heard to say, the Volpés were the closest it got in Hollywood to a royal family.

And so Roth tolerated her for her connections, despite her lengthy personal calls, her frequent makeup breaks, and that atrocious spelling. As for Cecilia, for whom work was something to do between dates, her duties were largely decorative and ceremonial. Roth's office provided a socially acceptable base, undemanding tasks (she had her own personal assistant who dealt with all the tiresome but essential details), and the occasional buzz from meeting the famous and the notorious who made up Roth's list of clients.

Friction between Roth and Cecilia was mild, and usually limited to a brisk exchange at the start of each working day over the schedule. So it was this morning.

"Look," said Roth as they checked the first name in his appointment book, a movie actor now enjoying a second career in television. "I know he's not one of your favorite guys, but it wouldn't kill you to be nice to him. A smile, that's all."

Cecilia rolled her eyes and shuddered.

"I'm not asking for genial. I'm just asking for pleasant. What's the matter with him, anyway?"

"He calls me 'babe' and he's always trying to grab my ass."

Roth didn't blame him. In fact, he'd frequently had thoughts in that direction himself. "Boyish enthusiasm," he said. "Youthful high spirits."

"Danny." Another roll of the eyes. "He admits to sixty-two."

"OK, OK. I'll settle for glacial politeness. Now listen—there's a personal project you could help me with, a kind of celebrity lifestyle thing. I think it's the right moment for me."

Cecilia's eyebrows, two perfectly plucked arcs, were raised. "Who's the celebrity?"

Roth continued as though he hadn't heard her. "You know I have this fabulous wine collection?" He looked in vain for some change in Cecilia's expression, some quiver of appreciation from those impassive eyebrows. "Well, I do, and I'm prepared to give an exclusive interview, in my cellar, to the right journalist. Here's the angle: I'm not just a business machine. I'm also a connoisseur, a guy with taste who appreciates the finer things in life—châteaus, vintages, Bordeaux, all that great cobwebby French shit. What do you think?"

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of The Vintage Caper, a light-hearted adventure about dark doings in the highly competitive world of wine collecting.

1. How does Mayle use humor, exaggeration, and physical descriptions to define Danny Roth’s personality? To what extent is Roth a caricature of an arrogant, egotistical businessman? Does he have any redeeming characteristics—i.e. qualities that humanize him or with which you can identify?

2. Compare Mayle’s description of Hollywood [p. 15, p. 33] to impressions you have formed from in other books, films, television programs, or through your own experience.   What particular references or images help to create a telling, recognizable snapshot? How would you characterize Mayle’s portrayal of the city and its inhabitants? Does he find charm and appeal behind the glitz and trendiness?

3. The Vintage Caper presents a host of insider information, historical tidbits, and sightseeing suggestions for visitors to Paris, and, especially, Marseille.  Do Levitt’s meanderings in Paris present new ways of looking at the city and all it has to offer? The detective’s expectations are based on the film The French Connection and “one or two breathless articles by travel writers” and Sophie, who visited the city once, remembers it as “ a scruffy, crowded labyrinth, teeming with raucous, often rather sinister-looking men and women” [p. 92-3]. Do media representations and personal biases often distort the expectations of travelers and tourists?  What do the taxi driver [p. 93], Phillipe, and Reboul reveal about the factors that influence how locals regard the city? Discuss how Mayle brings to life the charms of the city, as well as showing Marseille’s louche side.

4. Phillipe and Florian Vial play crucial roles in the plan to recover the wine. How does Mayle create a sense of these secondary characters as individuals with their own quirks, vanities, and motivations?

5. What is the significance of Levitt’s relationship with Elena Morales? Does it add to your understanding of the kind of man he is?  Were you interested in learning more about their past—and about the romantic possibilities that might lie in the future?

6. Compare and contrast Danny Roth and Francis Reboul.  What are their similarities? To what extent do they represent the conduct and mind-set of real-life wealthy and prominent men?  What character traits make Reboul an attractive and appealing figure?

7. Levitt’s passion for food and wine is an essential part of his character. What effects do the frequent descriptions of his meals and the restaurants in which he eats have on the reader? Do they distract from the main story or are they integral to the atmosphere and flow of the novel?

8. In what ways is The Vintage Caper a commentary on the differences between Americans and the French?  Consider the description of Levitt’s flight to Bordeaux [p. 65]; his reactions to Sophie [p. 66, p. 71]; the background material he reads about Reboul  [p. 129-30]; and his observations on the clothing and mannerisms of people he encounters even briefly. Does Mayle apply the same moral and aesthetic standards in describing the behavior and attitudes of each nationality? What cultural stereotypes does he draw? Why are they effective within the scheme of the novel?

9. Mayle has written several bestselling memoirs about his life in Provence, as well as popular guides to the region. How do Mayle’s skills and interests as a nonfiction writer influence the style of The Vintage Caper?

10. In what ways is The Vintage Caper both an homage to and a satire of the hardboiled detective novels by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler? Discuss the scenes, dialogue, and comments (particularly about women) that reflect this classic tradition.

11. How does The Vintage Caper compare to books and movies like To Catch a Thief, the Pink Panther series, and Ocean’s Eleven that feature clever capers, heists or cons? What characteristics does Levitt share with the heroes (or lead characters) in the genre?  Is there a good balance of suspense, risk, and comic elements? Is the climax satisfying?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

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The Vintage Caper 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every once in awhile, you find a great mystery that puts on no airs and treats you to a worthwhile romp through another country. This book could have been a 1940's movie - completely well rounded - no hard edges and fun to follow. If you're looking for a great diversion - it's a well written book that teaches you a thing or two about France, wine and the art of writing.
Jbmorrow More than 1 year ago
At first, I was not a huge fan of the novel, as the setting and characters in L.A. were too superficial for my taste, and the aura of the plot was not nearly as relaxing as A Good Year or A Year in Provence. However, after Sam, the insurance detective, heads off to Marseilles, my feelings began to change. I think Mayle demonstrates the contrast of attitudes and personalities in Europe versus the West Coast, and the expatiations on wine and gourmet food left me craving a fine dining experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have always enjoyed Peter Mayle's books. This was delightful and an easy read. I enjoyed the relationships and the character development. I like his writing style and enjoy the descriptions of both his characters and the locales. This particular book gave some interesting details of wine. I love wine but am not an "expert" on all of the nuances of the grape. I hope he will write more - both fiction and "escapism".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice story through interesting places
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jchbooks More than 1 year ago
this book was a disappointment. I have been a avid follower of Peter's books but this one was not nearly as good as others he has written. Almost like he had a deadline to meet and put this out. Hope he gets his groove back.
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