Sepulchre

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2008, 12:00am

Sepulchre

by Kate Mosse

Putnam, HK$208

Strange as it may seem, the most remarkable aspect of Sepulchre is not the puzzling tale, which twists its way through two centuries, but the planning behind it, which allows Kate Mosse to tell the tale at all.

After more than 500 pages of fanciful turns, murder and the presence of the devil, calling Mosse's creation organised and practical might suggest an absence of the vivacious imagery required to evoke the mystical arts. Quite the contrary: Mosse's dedication to detail and to making the book cohesive and readable allows her to take readers with her into the mysteries of the Tarot.

At the core of the story is a deck of tarot cards, the fictive Vernier deck thought up for the book. The deck is important, its history and purpose playing equally significant roles. The reader is reminded early that a reading of the cards does not definitively outline what is to come, only that such a possibility is plausible. This is important advice in a book where double-crossing proves to be the norm.

Mosse presents two narratives set in France, one in the 19th century and the other in the 21st. They feature Leonie, the Parisian, and Meredith, the American, who embark on individual journeys through France. The stories connect, but Mosse spaces out the parallel running tales, keeping the reader interested but not confused.

The rules of the Tarot run throughout. Early in the book, Meredith is given advice that events will slip between past and present.

A day before that advice is dispensed, she is told everything happens for a reason. Meredith holds to both tenets, as does Mosse, who slips in and out of past and present while imposing on Meredith's contemporary search the weight of each decision made two centuries earlier.

It is easy to like Mosse's main characters. Leonie, of the past, is 17, feisty, exuberant and adventurous. Her adoration for her older brother demonstrates familial loyalty and the naivete of a person caught between youth and the adult responsibilities soon to be imposed on her.

Meredith is in France to conduct research for a biography on composer Claude Debussy. Her story involves a piece of music titled Sepulchre 1891, one of her few links to her natural family.

Sepulchre is not a bone-chilling tale but an intelligent and diverting read. Some aspects of the background story fail to convince, but a believable tension is transferred between narrators. While it seems relatively easy to deduce something approximating the ending, one can never be

sure when reading the devil's picturebook.