The Master's Book
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Tags Paper chase, art theft, mystery, murder, teens, Belgium, Brussels, school, middle ages, duchess
Release: March 2013
Editor: Katie L. Carroll
Line Editor: T.K. Dallas
Cover Designer: Charlotte Volnek
In 1482 Mary, the last Duchess of Burgundy, lies on her deathbed in a castle in Flanders. She is only 24. In her final moments she makes a wish that, 500 years later, will threaten the lives of a boy and a girl living in Brussels.
The Master’s Book is the story of Sean, an Irish teenager, just arrived in Brussels to a house that is also a crime scene. Together with Stephanie, his classmate, he finds an illuminated manuscript, only for it to be stolen almost at once.
Where did this manuscript come from? Who was it originally made for? Is there a connection with the beautiful tomb Sean has seen in Bruges? Above all, why does someone want this book so badly that they are prepared to kill for it?
Part thriller and part paper-chase, this book is aimed at boys and girls of twelve and over.
Inside, we could see neat stacks of framed pictures against both walls, their backs facing out. Starting with the left-hand stack, I pulled them forward one by one: an old-fashioned painting of some horses in a field, another of a mountain waterfall, one of a woman in a blue dress, and then a painting of a vase of flowers.
“I’ve no idea if these are valuable,” I said, “but they’re certainly old.”
I turned to the right-hand stack, all black-and-white stuff like sketches and architectural drawings.
“What’s in here?” Stephanie asked, turning the light on a steel cabinet with an airtight door that was set into the end wall. “Here, hold the torch.”
The big handle of the cabinet reminded me of one I’d seen on a walk-in meat store once. Stephanie had to use both hands to swing it open. Inside we could see two rows of folders hanging sideways like files from metal frames. She pulled on the lower frame, and it slid out. She lifted one of the folders out at random.
It contained several yellowing sheets of paper with old-fashioned writing, each one separated from the next by a piece of tissue paper. We tried another folder and found more of the same.
Stephanie fingered them gently. “What can these be, I wonder? I’m not sure if I can read them. Some of the words look like Flemish, and some like German.”
She put the folder back carefully and took out another. “I think these ones are in French, but I’m not sure. Some of the words are strange.”
“Well it doesn’t look like there’s anything here in English, anyway.” I looked into the gap where she’d taken out the folder.
That was when something else caught my eye.
“Wait a minute,” I whispered, the hair on the back of my neck standing up.
“What?” asked Stephanie, also dropping her voice to a whisper.
“There’s something else behind these folders. Here, help me get a few more out.”
She did as I asked, and we looked into the space again.
“What the—” I began, but Stephanie got there first.
“Why is there a safe hidden back here? It’s not as if this room is easy to find.”
“Or that the rest of the stuff here isn’t worth a lot,” I added.
“Exactly.” Stephanie exclaimed. “What on earth was this guy up to?”
The safe looked like the ones you see in hotel bedrooms, with buttons instead of a combination dial, only a bit bigger.
“Whatever’s in there must really be in a different league,” I went on, probing the buttons.
“I don’t suppose you can figure out the combination, can you, mister smart kid?”
“No,” I muttered. I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic when she called me “mister smart kid”.
“Pity. You’ve been doing so well up until now.”
I still didn’t know if she meant that as a compliment or not. Best not to take the credit if I didn’t know her intentions.
“Well, it was Maeve who first spotted that the basement was smaller than it should be,” I reminded her, trying to sound as if I didn’t care about her compliments.
“I forgot about that,” said Stephanie, laughing. “Maybe we should bring her in on the whole thing now.”
“No way.” The last thing I wanted was for Maeve to butt in on my time with Stephanie, not that I was going to admit why I didn’t want Maeve there. “If we do that, we might as well tell my folks, because I reckon that’s what she’d do.”
“Oh, well, we can’t have that. At least, not until we see if we can work out for ourselves what’s in there. It might be diamonds or something. Maybe the guy was a crook. We could get a reward.”
“Well, Dad said the neighbours didn’t like him, but that doesn’t mean he was a crook. Still, I suppose you never know. Anyway, we’re not going to find out one way or the other if we can’t work out the combination, are we?
“He’s probably written it down in code somewhere.”
“Yeah right. Now who’s been watching too much TV?”
“No, I think people actually do that. If this guy—what did you say his name was?”
“Jan. Jan de Meulenaer.” I’d heard Dad mention it often enough to remember.
“Well, maybe this Jan guy made some kind of a note of it somewhere to make sure he wouldn’t forget. But if the safe is this well-hidden, he won’t have just written it down somewhere obvious where everyone can find it. He’d leave himself a clue somewhere.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, reluctantly starting to put back the folders. “The house was completely empty when we moved in. They’d even redecorated it.”
“Let me think,” said Stephanie slowly, fingering her lower lip.
“Well, we can’t stay down here, anyway.” I glanced at my watch. “The folks might walk in anytime. And Maeve is always nosy.”
“All right. Let’s lock up then.”
Philip Coleman has lived and worked as a biologist in four countries, including a sojourn in Brussels that inspired this story. Currently he lives in France and works for a conservation NGO based in Switzerland. Apart from writing, his hobbies are reading (fiction and history), painting, cinema, cooking and enjoying Alpine scenery. He has a grown-up son and daughter (and no, their names aren’t Sean and Maeve!).