Bless Kate Mosse’s heart. She really wants to write engaging, slightly supernatural thrillers. Unfortunately, Sepulchre, her second effort (following the best-selling Labyrinth) falls short (as the first one did as well in my opinion). Sepulchre contains dual narratives set over 100 years apart. What connects the narratives is place (Rennes-les-bains in France) and a rare deck of tarot cards. Set in 1891, the first narrative revolves around Leonie Vernier, a Parisian teenager who lives with her mother and older brother and whose downstairs neighbor happens to be Claude Debussy. Things in Paris are getting uncertain (someone is after her brother; she is almost crushed to death in an uprising at the opera; her mother needs time alone with her, um, gentleman caller), so her mother decides to send her and her brother to stay with Isolde, the widowed aunt-by-marriage they have never met. This aunt was married to their mother’s much-older brother, and the family estate, Domaine de la Cade, is in a tiny French village down the road from the more well-known (to students of grail myths and conspiracies) Rennes-le-Chateau. Leonie enjoys chilling, trashy mystery novels and finds much to occupy her at Domaine de la Cade. Turns out her late uncle was a student of the occult and tarot cards! And there is a mysterious sepulchre on the estate with paintings of certain of the Major Arcana cards from the rare tarot deck as well as rumors of a savage, otherwordly beast who stalks the village from time to time. And her brother and Aunt Isolde are acting weird as well.
The second narrative involves Meredith Martin, a music teacher who has traveled to France to research Claude Debussy for the biography she is writing and at the same time plans to research her own family. All she has of her ancestors is a piece of sheet music and a picture and is en route to the Domaine de la Cade (now a hotel) to investigate further. Quelle coincidence! And even more amazing, practical Meredith stops for a tarot card reading and discovers that one of the cards looks just like her.
See? It all sounds very interesting. I picked it up because I have always had an interest in the occult and tarot cards and was happy that Mosse wasn’t revisiting the same tired ground she had in Labyrinth. Sepulchre had a lot of potential, but it didn’t work. As with The World Before Her, I enjoyed the older narrative more. I liked Leonie and felt her story was told more vividly and with greater detail. Meredith’s narrative was not as interesting. It was frustrating at times because obviously the reader knows more about what is going on than Meredith does, and it felt like instead of continuing the story, Mosse was obliged to reinvent the wheel somewhat in order to bring Meredith up to speed. I also didn’t like the immediate emphasis on Meredith as special, and at one point, Mosse describes her “Banana Republic jeans” and that really irritated me. Maybe it seemed like Mosse was trying to flesh out her character by falling back on descriptions of clothes. Couldn’t she have just said she was wearing jeans? What did knowing the brand get us or say about her? That she probably spends too much on clothes? That she is slim and attractive enough to shop at Banana Republic? That alone was enough to make me dislike her. Yes, I am shallow. Sue me.
Mosse’s characterization needed a bit of work. Leonie was almost ridiculously naive, and the dialogue–especially from the villains–was rather cliche. Most of the characters seemed one-dimensional. I felt like a lot of things were hinted at plot-wise but not really addressed. I’m still not sure what Leonie’s uncle was up to in the sepulchre and what it was he raised. Mosse tells us, but I’m still kind of confused. I’m kind of confused about what happened to Leonie and then how the whole thing is resolved via Meredith. It’s like Mosse wanted to make a supernatural, occult book but couldn’t commit to it completely. There is a lot of innuendo and cryptic remarks, but when the time comes, the action and explanations were slim.
Soooo…ehhh, just ok. Instead, I recommend The Eight by Katherine Neville.