Review: The Tenth Chamber – Glenn Cooper

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9780099545675
Pages: 410

From the cover:
“Abbey of Ruac, rural France: A medieval script is discovered hidden behind an antique bookcase. Badly damaged, it is sent to Paris for restoration, and there literary historian Hugo Pineau begins to read the startling fourteenth-century text. Within its pages lies a fanciful tale of a painted cave and the secrets it contains – and a rudimentary map showing its position close to the abbey. Intrigued, Hugo enlists the help of archaeologist Luc Simard and the two men go exploring.
When they discover a vast network of prehistoric caves, buried deep within the cliffs, they realise that they’ve stumbled across something extraordinary. And at the very core of the labyrinth lies the most astonishing chamber of all, just as the manuscript chronicled. Aware of the significance of their discovery, they set up camp with a team of experts, determined to bring their find to the world. But as they begin to unlock the ancient secrets the cavern holds, they find themselves at the centre of a dangerous game. One ‘accidental’ death leads to another.And it seems that someone will stop at nothing to protect the enigma of the tenth chamber … “

Quite a mixed bag of a book this. Whilst the novel goes back and forth between the time periods the story needs to cover, the chronological order is: Pre-History. Medieval Middle Ages. Second World War. Modern day. Quite a spread and unusually (from my point of view anyway) all set in France. Though all the better for that, I say.

It is however, a bit of a mixed success. The story hangs around a series of interlocking cave chambers that are discovered in modern times, with cave paintings that are the rival to or better than, those found at other comparable sites like Lascaux. The new cave system’s paintings near the French village of Ruac (which seems to be a fictional place) are, apart from being much better, also much, much older. But why have the caves remained hidden until now? Our ‘guide’ through the story, Luc Simard is an archaeologist called to a Monastery where a rare book is found that needs de-coding and preserving. By accident, he and his friend, an expert in book preservation, stumble across the caves nearby the Abbey and make the link between the paintings and the book – and a secret many people have and still are fighting and killing to protect.

It is all handled quite effectively. The pace is excellent, with a measured build up to around the middle of the novel, where the hero is beginning to put deus and deus together and realise he’s neither alone in his quest, nor safe. From there, it goes up several gears and becomes quite a tense race to the final conclusion.

Whilst technically it is all handled very well, it doesn’t really reach the peaks it could have done. It stays in the lowlands. It doesn’t really develop the series of interesting incidents with possibilities, into anything more substantial. I think this might be to do with trying to touch too many novel-type bases. It’s part Clan of the Cave Bear, part medieval mystery whodunnit – drags in the Templars of course – part WWII drama and part modern day suspense novel. I was left a little not let down, but just feeling ‘oh well’, when I finished. I am going to recommend it to you, but more as a diverting and reasonably interesting read for a couple of days, rather than a novel that will change your life or live on in your memory longer than it took to read this…

You can buy The Tenth Chamber from The Book Depository

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