Peter Mayle demonstrates in THE MARSEILLE CAPER that thrillers can be fun. This latest installment in his quietly offbeat Sam Levitt series is the perfect novel for those readers of mysteries and thrillers who find the current trend toward dark and violent prose and situations somewhat off-putting. Mayle, always a smart writer, has written a tale that holds interest from beginning to end while keeping violence to a minimum --- if memory serves, there isn’t even a fatality during the course of the book --- and characterization to the maximum.
"Fans of the Levitt books will need no encouragement to jump in THE MARSEILLE CAPER, and those who are just becoming acquainted with Levitt and Mayle will wonder why they waited until now. The endings may seem predestined, but the joy lies within the scenery along the way."
THE MARSEILLE CAPER opens with Levitt somewhat surprised and startled by the approach of a past nemesis. A charming and lovable rogue for hire, Levitt (in THE VINTAGE CAPER) stole a priceless wine collection from a wealthy collector named Francis Reboul, who himself had stolen the vintage bottles from Levitt’s client. When encountering Reboul in Los Angeles, Levitt initially thinks that his former adversary is out for revenge. What Reboul wants is anything but. He respects quality work, and Levitt is one of the best at what he does. Reboul wants to retain Levitt for a job in Marseille. There is an oceanside project that is up for bids, and Reboul has the perfect plan but cannot present it himself. To get around that little detail, he wants Levitt to function as a straw man, presenting the project as his own.
An additional problem is that the chairman who is overseeing the selection of the project has an obvious favorite, that being an Englishman named Lord William Wapping. The high life has been a little too good to Wapping, but his luck has run out, the result being that he is hounded by creditors who are threatening to come to Marseille and turn him upside down until the change falls out of his pockets (and that’s not necessarily a figure of speech). He is willing to do just about anything to make sure he gets the bid on the construction project, and is not above using hired thugs and the like to do it. Levitt relies on his contacts and his wits, as well as the charms of Elena Morales, his constant companion, who in turn loves him almost as much as she loves the good life.
And it is the good life, indeed, that forms the backbone of THE MARSEILLE CAPER, or, to be more specific, the city of Marseille itself. Its food, history and culture form the primary foundation upon which the book is based, and if it seems that plot and characterization give way to a narrative travelogue of the city and its people, one could easily be forgiven for coming to such a conclusion. Mayle, though, is every bit the charmer in the literary sense as Levitt is…well, in every other way; he knows his territory so well and describes it so smoothly that the reader is more than happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Fans of the Levitt books will need no encouragement to jump onto THE MARSEILLE CAPER, and those who are just becoming acquainted with Levitt and Mayle will wonder why they waited until now. The endings may seem predestined, but the joy lies within the scenery along the way.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 9, 2012