1. “Francis Reboul sat in the sunshine, contemplating his breakfast: a shot glass of extra-virgin olive oil, which the French insist is so beneficial for le transit intestinal, followed by a large bowl of café crème and a croissant of such exquisite lightness that it threatened to float off the plate.” How does Mayle use the novel’s opening sentence to set up Francis’s character?
2. Compare that introduction to our first glimpse of Reboul’s nemesis: “On board the yacht, Oleg Vronsky—Oli to his friends and numerous hangers-on, and ‘The Barracuda’ to the international business press—turned to Natasha, the statuesque young woman whom he had appointed his personal first mate for the voyage.” (pages 4–5) How do these two early passages indicate what kind of story this will be?
3. Mayle is known for his exquisite descriptions of food and place. How does he use this skill to establish characters and propel the plot?
4. One of the themes in this novel is old vs. new, pitting old money and deep-rooted locals against oligarchs and faux aristocrats. Where does Sam Levitt fit into that rivalry?
5. Levitt is a bit of a sybarite, and he spends considerable time aboard luxury yachts—yet he doesn’t like boats. What does this tell us about him?
6. When Reboul rebuffs Vronsky’s attempt to talk to him at the gala, each man walks away believing the other has behaved badly. Can you see why both might consider things that way? How might Vronksy have had more success with Reboul?
7. Why do you think Vronsky is so obsessed with this particular house? Why is he willing to kill (or have someone else kill) for it?
8. How do Sam and Elena’s forays into house-hunting keep the story moving? What do we learn about character and plot from these detours?
9. Elena seems like quite a smart, capable woman, but she’s easily distracted by food, wine, and clothing—for example, when Sam derails her political rant about anti-abortion, pro-gun activists with an invitation to lunch (page 91). What do you think she sees in Sam? What does he see in her? Do you think they have a serious future?
10. Why is Philippe willing to risk his professional reputation—and possibly his life—to help Reboul?
11. The divorce lawyer, Prat, “congratulated himself, as he frequently did, on having chosen an occupation that feeds off human weakness, fallibility, and greed, three qualities that had helped to reward him so generously over the years” (pages 99–100). What other characters in the novel might say the same?
12. At times, the Figatellis and the Oblomovs seem like two sides of the same coin. What differentiates them? What makes us root for one pair over the other?
13. “Like so many rich and successful men, [Vronsky] was often the target of a nagging feeling that whatever he had wasn’t quite enough. Something was lacking” (page 108). Why does he feel this way? Do you think Reboul shares this feeling?
14. Levitt’s scheme requires him to act as a stand-in for Reboul, and in so doing, to risk his life. Clearly, he enjoys this—he says as much to Elena on page 129: “Guys just like to have fun.” Why do you think he finds this element of danger so appealing? Do you think all men share that sense?
15. What did you think of the novel’s climax? Were you expecting something different?
16. How would you characterize this series: mystery, travelogue, escapist lit? How does Mayle take elements from each to create something uniquely his?