Reviewed: December 3, 2008
By: Kate Mosse
Publisher: McArthur & Company
739 pages, $10.79
In the thriller genre it is quite common for the roots of a story to be grounded
in some event that took place centuries ago and is just coming to fruition in
the present day. Usually we get the backstory in a prologue; sometimes it is
inserted into the research that a central character has to do to make sense
of his or her peril. The late Robert Ludlum used the former technique a lot
in his stand-alone thrillers. Dan Brown took the latter route in The Davinci
Other times, the writer will tell both stories in alternating chapters, parallel
tales which eventually come together. This is the route that Kate Mosse in her
work. She used it to good effect in Labyrinth, a book I know only by its reviews.
She’s used it again in Sepulchre, a book which bounces back and forth
between the 1890s and the year 2007.
Both parts of the book are set in France, Both move between Paris and a chateau
in the Pyrenees near the city of Carcassonne. It is obvious early on that the
two female protagonists are in some way related to each other, though separated
by generations, so I don’t feel I’m giving anything away to tell
In 1891 Léonie Vernier lives in Paris with her brother, Anatole, and
their mother, Marguerite. It is unclear exactly how they manage the lifestyle
they have, save that it appears M’man is one of those women who, in that
memorable phrase, relies on the kindness of others.
That she also has enemies becomes abundantly clear as the book progresses. One
particularly evil man, M. Constant, has set his sights on ruining her and her
family. The young people escape the city after several incidents and relocate
to the home of a widow relative at Domaine de la Cade. There is a mystery there
which involves a strange deck of Tarot cards and a ruined Visigoth tomb.
Something about these chapters does not ring quite authentic to me. Despite
references to the Dréfus case and other contemporary events, this whole
section feels like it’s set 50 or 6 years earlier than it is said to be
and I found this jarring.
As much as I would like to have been sympathetic to Léonie, I found her
a vacuous young woman, and wondered where she ever found the strength to do
what she eventually does in her part of the story.
In 2007 Meredith Martin is an American academic researching a biography of Claude
Debussy, and also using that research to dig into the mysteries of her past.
She is concerned that she might have inherited the dubious mental legacy of
her birth mother, and wants to know more about where her family came from. Her
researches lead her to Domaine de la Cade, now restored and developed as a hotel.
To stretch coincidence even more, her room is the same one in which Léonie
stayed all those years earlier.
An experience with a Tarot reader in Paris sets Meredith to wondering about
the details of her reading and of the special deck of cards with which it was
carried out. She finds references to those cards all over the hotel and eventually
stumbles onto some of the secrets of her family history.
All this might seem dull without more of a threat. For Léonie the threat
is M. Constant, who tracks down the Verniers and attempts to engineer their
destruction, preying upon the local superstitions of the people to have them
killed and the chateau destroyed. There is more than a hint of the supernatural
For Meredith the danger comes from a more mundane source. At the chateau she
develops a relationship with Hal, the son of one of the owners. We learn very
early on that Hal’s uncle, Julian Lawrence, has killed his father and
has been cooking the books of the hotel in order to finance his obsessive search
for some Visigoth ruins. Meredith’s researches intersect with Julian’s
and this places her life and Hal’s in danger.
Some of the same background in this story was also used in Steve Berry’s
thriller The Templar Legacy. Fans of this type of story might be interested
in checking it out to see how the same historical facts can be used for quite