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  Bookends: Dan Davidson


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 Code.

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 you that.

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 here.

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 different ends.

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