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by Peter Mayle
Quercus, May 2010
240 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1849162166

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Hollywood lawyer, Danny Roth has built up a large and exceedingly expensive wine collection, but just possessing it isn't enough for him: he wants his wines, and by extension, himself, to be both admired and envied. He invites a journalist into his home to write a feature lauding the virtues of his cellar, but pride goes before a fall, as Roth soon realizes to his cost. His wine is stolen and as his own caretaker was complicit in the theft, the police seem wholly uninterested. But fortunately for Roth, his insurance company has slightly more of a stake in the matter and they engage the services of Sam Levitt, a former lawyer, wine expert and now a white-collar crime specialist. As a poacher turned gamekeeper, Levitt knows where to go to get the leads he needs and he travels first to the vineyards of Bordeaux and then on to Provence, one of the author's old haunts.

Levitt is helped in his investigations by elegant Frenchwoman, Sophie Costes, who isn't at all what he expected, although why he should have presumed that a French wine expert would be 'a sturdy old matron with flat feet and a faint moustache' rather escaped me. With the help of Sophie's cousin, Philippe, a retired policeman, their investigation gathers pace, but also gains another dimension, which leads to an unexpected dilemma for the trio.

I didn't come to this book with very high expectations, so in that respect at least I wasn't disappointed. The characterizations are as thin as cigarette paper and the book is stuffed full of the sort of stereotypes I'd expected from my other brushes with Mayle's writing. The Hollywood lawyer is immediately dislikeable; the French are portrayed as louche and charming; the wine is over-described and Mayle relies far too heavily on supplying the reader with copious details of food and drink to set the scene. The plot is simplistic in the extreme and contains no dramatic tension whatsoever. This is certainly not nail-biting stuff, but if you're looking for an undemanding read, especially if you happen to be in France at the time, the book might serve to while away a couple of hours by the side of a swimming pool, but don't take it on a long flight or you'll be reading something else over your neighbour's shoulder before the plane has landed.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, January 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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