It was a bleak January day when I discovered Peter Mayle’s latest book, The Marseille Caper, on the New Book Shelf at Guelph Public Library. Immediately, the skies seemed to brighten and a smile lit up my face. Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence, and some of my personal favourites (Anything Considered, Chasing Cézanne), always pleases with his blend of adventure fiction and travelogue.
The Marseille Caper moves along at a leisurely pace…it is not your typical caper. The book features a likeable rogue named Sam. He is hired by the rich Francis Reboul, a man who appreciates Sam’s skills at deception and thievery. He hires Sam to be his spokesman in a dangerous real-estate grab in Marseille. Though Sam has a job to complete, he manages to enjoy the pleasures of the region with his girlfriend Elena.
Foodies rejoice! I was delighted by the many engaging descriptions of the local food, history, and culture. I enjoyed the pages dedicated to exploring sites like La Charité in Marseille, and places like Camargue, and Cassis. My mouth watered over images of profiteroles, plumped up with a miraculously light crème Chantilly, and Manchego cheese, sliced thin, with quince jam and a glass of red wine.
The lively discussions over a fine meal were often informative and entertaining. One lunch conversation centered on why the French don’t get fat, despite the fact that they eat and drink like champions. Popular wisdom attributes this to correct eating habits, and the fact that the French eat more slowly and don’t snack between meals. Yet, the interesting aside is that this appears to be changing in France as their habits, diet and shape are adjusting (and not in a positive way). It is the result of too much fast food and sugary drinks. It is clear that the author, who has lived in Provence for twenty years, appreciates all the nuances of French life.
The book’s tension builds slowly, the plot is simple, and the bad guys like Lord Wapping, the snobbish Patrimonio, Dave, and Brian, are ineffectual (and that is why they are amusing). Anyone expecting an elaborate con will be disappointed, as the caper and its conclusion are predictable. The book’s true appeal lies in the local colour it reveals. I feel like I travelled to Marseille, shared a great meal with friends, and discovered the appeal of a more relaxed way of life.
A few years ago there was an interesting interview with Peter Mayle that appeared the newspaper The Connexion. It discussed Mayle’s twenty years in Provence and his writing career. He admitted that he always writes with “tongue very firmly in cheek” and does not take anything too seriously.
Fans of The Marseille Caper can read more about Sam Levitt in The Vintage Caper.
When the exclusive wine collection of a rich Hollywood lawyer is stolen by a cultivated thief, former lawyer and connoisseur Sam Levitt follows leads from Bordeaux to Provence while receiving assistance from a beautiful French colleague.