Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Tenth Chamber -- Digging for the truth

The Tenth Chamber
by Glenn Cooper

Glenn Cooper Books, 2014
ISBN: 0692225137
ISBN-13: 9780692225134
Available from Amazon

Luc Simard is getting really frustrated, and his dislike for small towns is growing by the minute.  You'd think the folks in Ruac would be happy to know that nearby there was an archaeological site that went well beyond anything that had been previously found, that they were about to become famous and the world would rush in breathlessly to see their great treasure, and give the community a huge economic boost, but no, all these surly provincials seem determined to keep him and his team from studying it.

It seemed a straightforward matter at first when his friend Hugo got a call to restore the old Abbey after a fire, and found an ancient book in a primitive cypher code, and told the Abbot that he, Luc, might be able to help get it translated.  But in it, there was one thing that needed no translation -- a map to a cave.

This cave is like nothing anyone has seen before, a tantalizing mystery that Luc is excited to have the opportunity to solve, but in order to decode its secrets, he must bring in the best of the best: specialists in conservation, cave art, plants, bats, church historians, and even toxicologists,  including, however inconveniently, his late love Sara who can't stand him.  Nothing ever seems to go right.  The government provides grant money to pay for the project and the inevitable bureaucrats appear.  The team is so excited they can't seem to remember the rules.  The Abbott from the monastery seems their only ally, since the town won't even allow them to set up a base camp.  It seems the universe is determined to keep the cave's secrets hidden forever.

The translation of the old manuscript is slow and doesn't really seem to make a lot of sense, the cave has many chambers to explore (as well as many bats to avoid) and the discovery of the tenth chamber brings to light paintings and iconography information that is completely incomprehensible. This discovery could be the making of Luc's career, but beyond the obvious challenges, other questions emerge: Can he even work with Sara, in spite of their turbulent past? Why does the government keep getting in the way, and why can't the villagers be even remotely helpful?

As the researchers struggle to understand what they're looking at, Cooper takes us on a bit of time travel, into the history of Ruac, and even further back in time, giving us a better view of the people and hints of what's really gone on,  but still not telling us the whole truth.  We have to struggle along with the researchers, but in a more fully-rounded environment, like a 3D rather than a 2D jig saw puzzle.  We are drawn into the full story, past and present.

The characters are clearly drawn, and as the story unfolds, the reader begins to notice that nothing is as it seems.  Too many things don't make sense, about the cave, the abbey, the town, the manuscript, the people. As the researchers finally begin to untangle the very ancient riddle, they discover that it contains the type of knowledge that they may need to pay for with their lives.

Glenn Cooper takes us on an adventure that's part archaeology, part intellectual enigma, and part who-done-it thriller that captures the imagination and keeps you turning pages well into the night.  Grab your favorite choice of beverage and a comfy chair.  You're going to enjoy this one.

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