Sepulchre by Kate Mosse is an, erm, mishmash. Historical, Romance, Tragedy, and Supernatural, with a healthy dollop of Music.
From the author of the New York Times— bestselling novel Labyrinth comes another haunting tale of secrets, murder, and the occult set in both nineteenth-century and twenty-first-century France.
In 1891, young Léonie Vernier and her brother Anatole arrive in the beautiful town of Rennes-les-Bains, in southwest France. They’ve come at the invitation of their widowed aunt, whose mountain estate, Domain de la Cade, is famous in the region. But it soon becomes clear that their aunt Isolde—and the Domain—are not what Léonie had imagined. The villagers claim that Isolde’s late husband died after summoning a demon from the old Visigoth sepulchre high on the mountainside. A book from the Domain’s cavernous library describes the strange tarot pack that mysteriously disappeared following the uncle’s death. But while Léonie delves deeper into the ancient mysteries of the Domain, a different evil stalks her family—one which may explain why Léonie and Anatole were invited to the sinister Domain in the first place.
More than a century later, Meredith Martin, an American graduate student, arrives in France to study the life of Claude Debussy, the nineteenth century French composer. In Rennes-les-Bains, Meredith checks into a grand old hotel—the Domain de la Cade. Something about the hotel feels eerily familiar, and strange dreams and visions begin to haunt Meredith’s waking hours. A chance encounter leads her to a pack of tarot cards painted by Léonie Vernier, which may hold the key to this twenty-first century American’s fate . . . just as they did to the fate of Léonie Vernier more than a century earlier
I picked up loads of books in my chairty shop run, so it’s probably going to be older books for a bit. Sepulchre is Kate Mosse’s second book and is loosely connected to her first, Labyrinth.
Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmm. I enjoyed Labyrinth, and the shorter piece she did (Winter Ghosts), but something became very clear to me as I read Sepulchre. While Kate Mosse does her research and knows a great deal about the history of this region, she is not that good a writer.
It’s not that she can’t tell a good stroy (even if it is roughly the same story in every book of hers I’ve read) it’s that the tools she uses to tell the story are blunt and ineffective. There is an over-reliance on cliche, a painful amount of repetition and a rather irritating tendency to go for bland telling. This wouldn’t bother me too much (these books are a guilty pleasure for me) if it weren’t so obvious that’s she’s in love with her own prose.
It’s hard to discuss this without spoilers, but there is a point where a character repeats the first paragraph of the book to an audience, and the audience applauds wildly. I’ve known few audiences at book readings to be that enthusiastic unless the author is well-known – book readings tend to be quiet affairs, often with only half a dozen people present. The idea of wild applause is ridiculous. So we’re encouraged to believe it is the quality of the prose that gets this reaction – except that the prose is choppy, awkward, melodramatic and turgid.
Mosse writes best when she isn’t trying so hard to be ‘writerly’. Her descriptions of the countrysides are very effective in their simplicity, and she is excellent at writing emotion. It’s when she tries to be poetic that she becomes stilted and almost uncomfortable to read.
Still, the plot is tight and entertaining, the characters are vivid and appealing, and the background is historically accurate. It could be a lot worse, and I have read books that are. 3 stars.
- Kate Mosse on France, Michelle Lovric on Venice, Ann Morgan on 196 countries … (thecity-litcafe.typepad.com)
- My Secret Life: Kate Mosse, 51, author (independent.co.uk)
- Labyrinth, Channel 4, review (telegraph.co.uk)