Cooper, Glenn - 'The Tenth Chamber'
My first thoughts on picking up this book were that it was yet another book on a hidden cave in France, with important secrets kept quiet by the locals, and the government. And that pretty much sums up the book. So, can Glenn Cooper manage to make the book stand out from other books that have a similar story line (of which there are quite a few)? As in the novel THE CRYSTAL SKULL, this novel also has a book linked to a cave, written in code several centuries before, which tells the story of hidden secrets. The book is discovered after a fire in a monastery, and the abbot gives the book to Hugo, a 'restorer' to repair, as water damage has glued the pages together.
After restoring the book, Hugo reads the first few words, not in code, which state that the writer, an abbot called Barthomieu is over 200 hundred years old. He sees the images in the book and excitedly contacts his friend and colleague, an archaeologist called Luc, to help him discover its secrets. They send a copy away to be decoded, and start their search for the cave near the village of Ruac, based on a rough map in the book. On finding the cave, they discover remarkable cave paintings in a series of 10 caves. The paintings appear to be older than those of the Lascaux caves, and yet seem more advanced in both colour and representation. A fantastic find for a well- known archaeologist, already publishing articles in Nature. He manages to persuade the department of culture to fund a team to research the cave, a team that includes his ex-girlfriend Sara. But tragedy overtakes the investigation as one of the team is found dead shortly after starting their research, and then Hugo, Luc's best friend, apparently drives his car into a tree and is killed.
Meanwhile, as the book is gradually decoded, we learn the story of Barthomieu, abbot and author of the book, and the secret of his old age; a special drink or 'red tea' brewed from three separate components found close to the cave. Intriguingly, Cooper even manages to weave the tale of Abelard and Heloise into this back-story. The tale of the cave painters is also recounted, and we discover that they also knew how to make the red tea, and its properties, which led to the painting in the cave. Clearly, there is something more about this tea that the locals of Ruac, and a secret department in the government would like to keep secret. Sara, a plant specialist, sends the three essential components of the tea to her colleague, Fred, in Cambridge for analysis, but just as Luc and Sara go to visit him to find out what he's discovered, his laboratory is blown up. He manages to tell Sara something of his discoveries in hospital, which we only learn about towards the end of the book, but then he dies, and Sara disappears. Meanwhile, back at the camp, the remaining members are all brutally murdered. Can Luc discover what's going on, and rescue Sara from whoever is holding her? The final chapters of the book describe how Fred thought the red tea might work, with some interesting scientific asides including gene names.
So, although at first glance, this does seem to be yet another novel about a book in code, and a secret cave with something to hide, on the whole the author does manage to write a fairly convincing new slant on this type of idea, although it is also rather predictable. However, the story is well told, well plotted, and an easy read. Overall, I'd class this one as airport or train fodder, it doesn't require too much attention, but has just enough to keep one reading and entertained.
Read another review of THE TENTH CHAMBER.
Michelle Peckham, England
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