Bon vivant and expert sleuth Sam Levitt and his partner in love and intrigue, Elena Morales, return in the latest installment of the delightfully sun-splashed Provençal Caper series.
When a Riviera socialite’s diamonds are stolen—the latest in a string of seemingly unconnected but ever-more-audacious jewelry heists across France—Elena flies in to investigate the insurance claim. It’s a trip she’s more than happy to make, as it gives her a chance to meet up with old friends in Marseille—and, particularly, with Sam.
Once reunited, Sam isn’t entirely distracted by domestic matters. In the pattern of these “perfect crimes” he's beginning to see a master at work, and he’s quickly determined to connect and solve the cases. But as he and Elena dig deeper, they begin to realize just how much is connected and how dangerous it may be to pursue the whole truth.
Meanwhile, there’s a house to renovate, rosé to share, and feasts of Provençal summer bounty to enjoy. Full of Peter Mayle’s inimitable wit and style, The Diamond Caper is sure to charm faithful fans and new readers alike.
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PETER MAYLE is the author of fourteen previous books, eight of them novels. A recipient of the Légion d’Honneur from the French government for his cultural contributions, he has been living in Provence with his wife, Jennie, for more than twenty-five years.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Why is it that bad news so often arrives on Monday mornings?
The call came at 6:00 a.m. local time, waking a reluctant Elena Morales from a deliciously deep sleep. It was her boss, Frank Knox, founder and CEO of Knox Insurance, and there was an undercurrent of tension in his voice. There was a problem, he said, and it was urgent. Despite the early-morning Los Angeles traffic, Elena was with him in his office by 7:30.
For once, his normally cheerful manner had deserted him. “I guess you’ve read some of this stuff already,” he said, opening the folder of newspaper clippings that was on his desk. “These jewelry robberies in the South of France are getting worse every year. And now it’s getting closer to home. A couple of hours ago, I had a call from our Paris office; one of their clients, Madame Castellaci, has just had a bunch of diamonds lifted from her house in Nice. She’s hysterical, and the office in Paris has been sent a claim the size of the national debt.” He paused to take a swig of coffee.
“What’s our liability?” Elena asked.
Knox’s eyebrows went up, and he shook his head. “We laid off as much of the risk as we could, but it’s still going to hurt us.” He took a deep breath. “We’re looking at seven figures. Two million, maybe three.”
“Do you reckon the claim’s valid? What do the police say?”
Knox shrugged. “Not much. From what I’ve been told, it seems to have been a professional job—no clues, no prints, nothing.”
“And what do our people in Paris say?”
Knox slumped back in his chair. Elena had never seen him look so despondent. He was planning to retire in a few months and enjoy a prosperous retirement, after thirty-five years of hard work. And now this. Even with the money he’d put away over the years, it was a blow.
“Frank, what do you want me to do?”
“I’d like you to get over to the Paris office and go through everything they know,” Knox said after a deep sigh. “And then I’d like you to go down to Nice and grill the client.” He held up one hand. “I know, I know. The police will have done that, but sometimes they miss little things. It’s a long shot, but it’s all we’ve got.” He slid the folder of clippings across the desk. “Here—something to read on the plane. Good luck.”
Elena’s feelings were mixed as she packed for the trip. Normally, she would be delighted to be going once again to France. This visit, however, was unlikely to offer much in the way of enjoyment. Her colleagues in the Paris office would be distracted and anxious, and if Madame Castellaci in Nice was anything like some of Knox’s other clients, she would be bad-tempered and suspicious. Not for the first time, Elena was reminded of the irony of the insurance business. In theory, a mutually beneficial arrangement; in practice, a relationship in which, so often, each side distrusted the other. Cheating, misrepresentation, and blatant dishonesty—she had seen them all.
She tried to close her suitcase. As usual, it was overpacked; as usual, she had to sit on it to close the locks. She looked at her watch, saw that she had ten minutes before the car came to take her to the airport, and decided to call Sam Levitt, her partner in love and other adventures for the past several years. He was in Jamaica, “consulting” for his old friend Nathan, whose business—smuggling Cuban cigars from Jamaica into the U.S.—had run into a spot of trouble with one of the local protection rackets.
“Sam? Can you talk?”
“To you, my love, always.” Even his voice sounded suntanned, Elena thought.
“Listen—something’s come up at the office. I’ve got to go to Paris this afternoon, and then Nice. It’s a client who’s put in a claim for stolen diamonds, and Frank wants me to check things out.”
“You want me to come? I’m nearly done here. Another day or two of twisting arms and kissing ass should do it. Why don’t we meet in Marseille? I’ll call Francis and tell him to expect us.” Their good friend Francis Reboul had been a generous host over the years, and he was always happy to see them.
“That would be great. God, am I sick of the insurance business.”
There was a pause before Sam’s reply. “Give it up. Send me out to work and become a lady of leisure.”
Elena was prevented from pursuing this seductive suggestion by the arrival of the driver. “Got to go. I’ll call you from Paris.”
In the car, she went over their brief conversation. Was Sam serious? She wasn’t always sure. He had wanted her to come down to Jamaica with him, but work had made that impossible, a disappointment for them both. One day soon, she promised herself, you’ve got to get a life. A new life. According to Air France, she had ten hours and forty-five minutes to think about it before arriving in Paris.
As a small consolation, she was in business class. Comfortable surroundings and a decent glass of chilled Chablis restored her spirits enough to do a little homework, and she opened the folder of clippings that Frank Knox had given her.
The thefts were listed in chronological order, starting in 2002 with a relatively modest haul, valued at three million euros, from a jeweler in Cannes. In 2005, two million from a jeweler in Saint-Tropez. In 2009, fifteen million from Cartier in Cannes. In 2010, seven million from a jewelry wholesaler near Marseille. In 2013, a million from the safe in a Cannes hotel bedroom, a two-million-euro necklace stolen during a celebrity party at the Cannes Film Festival, and, to top them all, one hundred and three million from an exhibition of “Extraordinary Diamonds” in, yet again, Cannes. Elena was shaking her head in disbelief as she put down the folder. All that money for fragments of what one article had described as metastable allotropes of carbon.
Much to Sam’s relief, Elena’s taste in jewelry was limited to Mexican silver and old gold. She had seen far too many diamond necklaces on the wattled necks of elderly socialites, and this had effectively cured her of diamond envy. As she had once said to Sam, she would prefer to put that kind of money into something practical, like a town house in Paris and a Bentley. Or the house they had seen on their last visit to Marseille. A friend of Francis Reboul’s had shown it to them: it was small, built in the early 1920s, and perched on a spur of rock. They had instantly fallen in love with it. The sweeping view of the Mediterranean was enough on its own, but there were other attractions. It was a short and picturesque walk from Reboul’s home at Le Pharo, and an even shorter stroll would take them to the delights of Le Petit Nice, whose three Michelin stars made it Marseille’s most decorated restaurant.
The asking price for the house was, as Sam had said, enough to make a billionaire’s eyes water. But they had to have it. Sam raided what he called his slush fund, Elena sold her stocks, and long-distance negotiations between L.A. and the owner’s lawyer in Marseille began. And continued. And went on. And on. The problem was that the proprietor, a seventy-five-year-old widow from Paris, had thought it necessary to obtain the agreement of her extended family to the sale. Children had to be consulted. Grandchildren had to be considered. Even cousins, who under French law might have had some distant claim to the proceeds, could not be ignored. Back and forth went proposals and counterproposals between members of the family until Elena and Sam had almost given up.
A ray of hope had finally come the previous week in the form of a letter from the owner’s lawyer. It was possible that the sale could proceed as soon as he had received written confirmation he was awaiting from the family that the sale would not provoke legal complications. Sam had called Reboul with the news, and he had agreed to contact the lawyer and try to move things along. And that was where the matter stood, promising but unresolved.
Thoughts of the house turned to thoughts of the future. A place in Marseille, however idyllic it might be, was of little use to someone who was stuck in a Los Angeles office. Elena had often wondered how long she could put up with her job, even though it paid very well. These last two years, she would have left several times had it not been for her loyalty to Frank Knox. Now that he was retiring, Elena could leave with a clear conscience. Yes, she thought, Frank’s retirement was definitely a signal for action. She closed her eyes and lay back in her seat, her head filled with thoughts of life with the Mediterranean as a neighbor.
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