For those of you who’ve read Kate Mosse’s preceding novel, Labyrinth, Sepulchre follows the same narrative style and relies upon a fairly similar storytelling technique: events from the past are inextricably bound to events in the present day and our present day heroine becomes enthralled with her historical link and is compelled to try to right the wrongs of the bygone era.
Sepulchre: The Plot
It is 1891, and Léonie Vernier is a 17-year-old Parisian girl who lives with her mother and her brother Anatole in the same apartment building as the composer Claude Debussy. She unwittingly becomes swept up in events as a former love rival of her brother starts a whispering campaign against him. The pair retreat to the Carcassonne countryside to the abode of their aunt Isolde. Léonie discovers her dead uncle’s penchant for the paranormal via tarot cards and her brother re-discovers his aunt’s feminine charms.
That’s right, Anatole has been romantically involved with his aunt (not a blood relative, so no nasty in-breeding!). The retreat to the countryside has been a careful plot to reunite the two lovers and to remove Anatole from the vicious whispering campaign. Unfortunately, Isolde’s former lover bears a powerful grudge and has vowed to make the lovers pay for the hurt and humiliation they caused him.
Meanwhile(?), in the present day, young author Meredith Martin is traveling France to research her novel on Claude Debussy. She’s also trying to establish a mysterious link to her past in the form of a sepia tinged photo of a WWI soldier and a piece of music entitled Sepulchre 1871.
Meredith’s journey takes her to Carcassonne, to Isolde’s former home, now a hotel. There she discovers the truth about her ancestry and the dreadful events that unfolded at the Domaine De La Cade.
When I discovered that Mosse was using the same narrative style in Sepulchre as she had in Labyrinth, I was initially concerned that she was flogging the format to death and that the story would lack originality.
The author overcame those fears beautifully by tackling a different period in French history, but staying roughly within the Carcassonne area that so obviously inspires her. And while there are similarities in the narrative style, the stories are totally different.
Another nice touch was to resurrect characters from Labyrinth – in the 1800’s, Audric Baillard comes to the assistance of Léonie and her family on more than one occasion, with both action and advice. You might also remember Dr Shelagh O’Donnell from Labyrinth – she was leading the dig on which Alice discovered the entrance to the labyrinth. Well, Shelagh takes on another minor role in Sepulchre as a witness to the death of Hal’s father. (Hal is the nephew of the owner of the Hotel De La Cade, and Meredith’s eventual love interest).
Despite some points where I found the reading a slog, Sepulchre is an engrossing novel and I found myself sneaking away for a quiet half hour until it was finished. Kate Mosse’s love for the Carcassonne region is evident in her lush narrative and this helps give life to the characters and places she describes.
Well worth the read, I’m glad I picked this one up while it’s still in the shops! Now I’m tempted to read Labyrinth all over again!