Smart Crime Book Reviews: Kate Mosse
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Read by Tracy in November 2013
Tracy recommends a formulaic beach read - but aren't they all
The Blurb: 1891. Seventeen-year-old Leonie Vernier and her brother abandon Paris for the sanctuary of their aunt's isolated country house near Carcassonne, the Domaine de la Cade. But Leonie stumbles across a ruined sepulchre - and a timeless mystery whose traces are written in blood. 2007. Meredith Martin arrives at the Domaine de la Cade to research a biography. But Meredith is also seeking the key to her own complex legacy and becomes immersed in the story of a tragic love, a missing girl, a unique deck of tarot cards and the strange events of one cataclysmic night a century ago...
The Reality: After reading Labyrinth, I couldn't help but order the remaining two books in the trilogy, after all Labyrinth was a huge commercial success. Although I wasn't a huge fan of her work as a literary masterpiece, it kept me entertained and a hot weekend with a good book by the pool beckoned. Besides reading about southern France isn't too bad a way to spend some time. As with Labyrinth, Sepulchre is set in Carcassonne, south west France and is also a parallel narrative linking the past and present. In this story we follow an 1800's Leonie and a modern day Meredith. Meredith is an American researcher who is studying the life of composure Charles Debussy, and in her spare time she attempts to uncover her mysterious past. From the beginning of both stories, their lives are instantaneously shrouded in mystery and rumour which are tied together through tarot cards and a tragic love story. Sepulchre is more of a gothic novel, as compared to Labyrinth which was more of a medieval novel. However, the storylines do intertwine, but it can be read as a standalone book as well. I presume this style of book is something that Publishers are keen to promote due to building a brand and ensuring the public get a known quality, with the usual few quirky twists. I didn't enjoy this book as the previous one, I felt it was too similar i.e. swap Cathar for Visigoths, Alais for Leonie and Alice for Meredith. Interestingly in this book, I felt that the female character of Meredith wasn't as strong as her previous incarnation. Once she met her dashing suitor, he became a central character. The highlight of this book was Leonie; I could not imagine living in her shoes. Although Paris was bohemian, it was certainly no place for a young woman growing up; she is constrained by society and is desperate for an escape. Of course as soon as she arrives at the Domain de la Cade, she is caught up in the local legends and is easily persuaded to believe in the supernatural. Of course as soon as Audric Baillard advises her not to try the tarot because they are dangerous, you just know she is going to ignore his sage advice! Yet again Sepulchre is not going to receive any literary prizes, but it is an interesting read, with enough pace and storyline to keep you engaged and would be perfect for those lazy summer beach reads, or curled up near a log fire.
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Read by Tracy in November 2013
Tracy recommends as a great holiday read
The Blurb: When Dr Alice Tanner discovers two skeletons during an archaeological dig in southern France; she unearths a link with a horrific and brutal past. But it's not just the sight of the shattered bones that makes her uneasy; there's an overwhelming sense of evil in the tomb that Alice finds hard to shake off, even in the bright French sunshine. Puzzled by the words carved inside the chamber, Alice has an uneasy feeling that she has disturbed something which was meant to remain hidden...Eight hundred years ago, on the night before a brutal civil war ripped apart Languedoc, a book was entrusted to Alais, a young herbalist and healer. Although she cannot understand the symbols and diagrams the book contains, Alais knows her destiny lies in protecting their secret, at all costs. Skilfully blending the lives of two women divided by centuries but united by a common destiny, LABYRINTH is a powerful story steeped in the atmosphere and history of southern France.
The Reality: I loved the premise of this book and unbeknownst to me it is also a TV serialisation, so as usual thought I would read the book before watching the TV adaptation with condemnation. The book is described as a Da Vinci Code like plot where we follow two narratives simultaneously - Alais, in 13th century France and Alice in 2005 as they fight to protect the Grail, which is bound in three volumes. The book had all the hallmarks of a good mystery with a thrilling climax which would be unveiled in the subsequent books in the trilogy. Whilst on an archaeological dig in France, Alice uncovers a skeleton and an altar behind a boulder. She unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that threaten to expose the Grail and place it in the hands of the baddies. As Alice tries to understand the meaning of her discovery she finds herself dreaming of Alais who was facing similar issues as the French Crusaders who are ridding the land of heretics. Although it could be argued that it was the Northern French who were after the Southern French lands under this guise. The penny finally drops for Alice and she realises that both Alais and herself are fighting the same cause and the Grail is inseparable to their lives. I wanted to love this book, but I struggled to separate the storylines and follow the plot, sub-plot and sub-sub-plot. Even at the end I wasn't particularly clear on the meaning of the labyrinth symbol and how that fitted into the story. I also felt disappointed for Alais - her story was certainly interesting but it lacked development. I won't go into the language which was one of the main bug-bears, I am sure nobody spoke as Kate wrote and I think attempting to write in an accent caused some issues with grammar. It wasn't all bad, I loved the fact there were two female leads which avoided being stereotyped and this includes the heroines and the villains. Although thinking about the novel I am asking myself what happened to some of the characters along the way, not least of all Shelagh - surely an eminent archaeologist can't just disappear. I also thought Kate described the region of Carcassonne and the Languedoc beautifully. It is easy to understand her passion of the area which must have heightened her passion for exploring the Cathar religion and lives. I knew nothing about the Cathars' and it wasn't until very late in the book that Mosse explains that they if you lived a good life you would be reunited with God, otherwise you would stay on earth! That would have been handy to know much earlier on, so then you can understand why they were different to other believers. So at the end of book this might be one of the few examples where the TV miniseries could be better! The book was entertaining, there was enough action and it was paced to keep you turning the pages without having to know anything about history which is probably one of the reasons people compare it to Dan Brown's books - they aren't fantastic literature but sometimes you just don't care and you want something that is purely entertaining.
Keep up to date with Kate Mosse at her website.