“Labyrinthe” starts as a parallel story. In the thirteenth century, Alaïs discovers that her uncle is the guardian of one of the trilogy of books that contain the secrets of the Grail. In contemporary times, Dr Alice Tanner, is on an archaelogical dig in the Pyrenees, mending a broken heart and planning to visit the house she’s now inherited from her aunt, when, straying from the rest of the group, she uncovers a cave where one of the books was hidden. However, the two stories are not true parallels, they begin to taper towards each other and eventually merge.
Alaïs’s story is the better told. The historical detail is lush and helps bring the story to life as the Crusaders seek out Cathars to burn at the stake as heretics. As “her” citadel comes under siege, Alaïs has to find a way of smuggling the books out, but her greatest enemy isn’t the Crusaders but her own sister, Oriane, jealous and desirous of the power and wealth she imagines the Grail will bring. Although the line editor must have been caught napping since the characters’ dialogue is interspersed with Occitan words which are then immediately translated, eg “’Ben’ she said, good,” which becomes irritating.
Alice’s story, however, suffers in comparison and cheats the reader. It’s not unusual for Kate Mosse to end a chapter with a character not noticing an eavesdropper slip into the shadows or not noticing that they’re being followed and, in one instance, not noticing a car until it’s about to knock him down. If the narrating character doesn’t notice then neither does the reader and if the reader needs to know, then the wrong character’s narrating. As a result of setting up this not noticing, Kate Mosse scores an own goal when Marie-Cécile de l’Oradore deletes a message on her mobile phone from the younger lover she’s just dumped. The reader’s left waiting for this message to later pop up to reveal something of significance when, in fact, all the writer is trying to do is show that the younger man is not longer significant to the character. So the reader’s left wondering why it was mentioned at all and meanwhile hasn’t been paying much attention to the plot.
Chapters are wasted as Alice listens to a historian explain the significance of Alaïs’s story: it’s too static and the reader would rather be with Alaïs anyway. It also creates an uneven pace: just when things are racing towards getting Alaïs and Alice into the cave, it slows Alice’s story to a halt. The denouement disappoints: it leaves loose strands. Alice doesn’t grieve for a “best friend” whom the reader is left to assume doesn’t make it. Alaïs’s character is detailed with good, she doesn’t flinch from helping others and is shocked at the brutality of the Crusaders and feels guilt when she perceives she’s failed. Her husband is saved as a character by his enduring love for his wife. Kate Mosse clearly enjoyed creating Oriane, Alaïs’s sister, and her contemporary parallel, Marie-Cécile de l’Oradore. However, corrupt solicitor Paul Authié has no redeeming features whatsoever and Inspector Noubel is close to being a figure of fun.
Within the “Labyrinthe” there is a good story, but it’s not in the contemporary chapters. Skip these and focus on the medieval, there the characters and story have a depth that lingers after the book is closed.