Question:The Vintage Caper begins and ends in Los Angeles, which you’ve not explored before in your writing. What led you to set parts of the book there? Are you a fan of the city?
Peter Mayle: The inspiration for the story came from California, and so L.A. seemed a logical place to start. Also, I had long cherished an urge to stay at the Chateau Marmont, which I was able to do in the worthy name of research. Very nice it was too. As for the city, I was unable to find the centre, but those parts I did see I enjoyed.
Question: Where did the character of Danny Roth come from?
Peter Mayle: Danny Roth is a mixture of several movie people and agents I’ve met over the years—quick-witted, talkative and relentlessly self-absorbed.
Question: This book is a bit of a love letter to the city of Marseille, which isn’t a place that usually inspires such rapturous praise. Do you think it’s underrated?
Peter Mayle: Marseille is certainly underrated, and I think it still suffers from the reputation gained in The French Connection.Marseille’s problem is that it is not a city that makes an effort to put itself out for strangers. It is what it is, take it or leave it—patches of squalor next to buildings and neighborhoods of great beauty; a tremendously mixed population, with origins in France, North Africa, and Italy; the almost religious support of Olympique de Marseille, the local soccer team; the pride in all things Marseillais, from its bouillabaisse to its soap; the highly vocal distrust of the government in Paris—all this I find fascinating. And then there are the people ofMarseille, known throughout France as masters of exaggeration. Nowhere else in the world will you find the humble sardine described as a shark. In other words, Marseille is a great stew of a city, filled with terrific things for writers to get their teeth into.
Question: What led you to write about a wine theft? What kind of research did you do for the book?
Peter Mayle: I read an article in The Herald Tribune about a robbery carried out in California, one in which the thieves concentrated on the very sell-stocked wine cellar, ignoring everything else. I don’t knowif theywere ever found, but the unusual precision of the robbery intrigued me. Why did they just steal wine? Presumably they were going to sell it, but to whom?And how did they get into the house and clean away? The more questions I thought about, the more it seemed as though the answers would make a great story. And the research, focused as it was on wine, was delicious.
Question: Have you had the pleasure of trying any of the wines that were stolen from Danny Roth?
Peter Mayle: Yes, but not often enough. In fact, I’ll never make a serious wine connoisseur. Taking small and reverent sips is not for me; I like to drink a wine rather than worship it. Give me a well-filled glass and a second bottle waiting in the wings and I’m happy.
Question: This is your first novel since A GOOD YEAR in 2004, though you’ve published two works of nonfiction, CONFESSIONS OF A FRENCH BAKER and PROVENCE A-Z, in the interim. What prompted you to return to fiction—or turn back to nonfiction in the first place?
Peter Mayle: I enjoy writing fiction because there are no restrictions; you’re inventing. And I enjoy nonfiction because you don’t have to make it up; you’re describing. Choosing between the two depends entirely on the subject and the idea, and THE VINTAGE CAPER came about because of an idea prompted by that newspaper story.
Set in Hollywood, Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille, Peter Mayle’s newest and most delightful novel is filled with culinary delights, sumptuous wines, and colorful characters. It’s also a lot of fun.
The story begins high above Los Angeles, at the extravagant home and equally impressive wine cellar of entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. Unfortunately, after inviting the Los Angeles Times to write an extensive profile extolling the liquid treasures of his collection, Roth finds himself the victim of a world-class wine heist.
Enter Sam Levitt, former corporate lawyer, cultivated crime expert, and wine connoisseur. Called in by Roth’s insurance company, which is now saddled with a multimillion-dollar claim, Sam follows his leads—to Bordeaux and its magnificent vineyards, and to Provence to meet an eccentric billionaire collector who might possibly have an interest in the stolen wines. Along the way, bien sûr, he is joined by a beautiful and erudite French colleague, and together they navigate many a château, pausing frequently to enjoy the countryside’s abundant pleasures.
The unraveling of the ingenious crime is threaded through with Mayle’s seductive rendering of France’s sensory delights—from a fine Lynch-Bages and Léoville Barton to the bouillabaisse of Marseille and the young lamb of Bordeaux. Even the most sophisticated of oenophiles will learn a thing or two from this vintage work by a beloved author.
From the Hardcover edition.
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