Monday, May 24, 2010

The Vintage Caper

Here's this book in one sentence...Ready? France is awesome. The characters and story are purely secondary to this premise.

I thought about making a little game: Excerpt from this book or excerpt from a travel guide?

It would be difficult to imagine a more agreeable place to have lunch on a fine sunny day than the terrace at Peron. High on the Corniche Kennedy, the restaurant offers an irresistible combination of fresh fish, fresh air, and a glittering view of the Frioul islands and the Chateau d'If. It is a setting to sharpen the appetite and bring on a holiday mood.

Yes, that is an actual part of this book. There is so much about the scenery, the people and the food and wine of France that if you whittled the book down to the actual story, it would probably be about forty pages long.

In the middle of reading this, I watched the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair. There are quite a few parallels. Whereas the TC Affair is about art, this book is about wine. A whole bunch of wine, between two and three million dollars worth, is stolen from an arrogant collector in Los Angeles. Crook turned investigator, Sam Levitt, is hired by the company that insured the wine to investigate the theft (just as Rene Russo is brought in by an insurance agency to find the stolen painting in the movie). Like Russo, Levitt is a little more clever than the police and has no problem breaking the law to justify reacquiring the assets protected by the company.

I'll spoil the ending for you here. As in The Thomas Crown Affair, the thief is a wealthy European who stole for the thrill. Also as with the movie, the thief is painted as being a sympathetic, likable figure. In this book, the thief is a French hero, a billionaire who gladly pays his taxes to support his country and is a Francophile in all regards. Meanwhile, the guy from whom he stole the wine is an arrogant jackass American. So who cares if he gets his wine back, right?

There just wasn't much to like about this book. The fact that it is a wine theft instead of art is a little different. For a mystery, there is zero suspense and no surprise twists and turns (outside of Sam not really caring about getting the wine back to the guy from whom it was stolen). When the initial crime occurs, there is virtually no evidence as to who might have done it yet Sam finds a loose connection which just happens to be the correct one. Dialogue is awful. One of our patrons recommended it to me as being a book for guys but I think that is true only if you view guys as being chauvinistic. There's a lot of that going on in the book.

Despite the vast number of shortcomings, it was at least somewhat entertaining. I wavered on putting it in the "don't read" level of reviews but it isn't quite that bad. If you're a fast reader, it might not be a bad book to knock out in an afternoon by the pool. With all the advertisements for the French, I could see it being fun to think about traveling over there as you while away the time poolside. for the most part, though, you're not missing anything if you don't read this book.

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