I was in the middle of writing the sequel to A Spy Like Me and did a little research on monasteries and secret tunnels. I just needed a spark, a possibility, something I could use in my story, and I found it.
Ancient books were found missing from a locked library in a Mont Sainte-Odile, a monastery in the Vosges Mountains in France. For two years, the monks could not solve the mystery. Not until the police were called in, windows locked, and cameras set-up was the answer found.
Not even the monks knew that a section of a bookcase could swing open to reveal the room. (I guess they didn’t read enough Nancy Drew.)
I can’t really blame the thief.
I mean, he was a teacher and loved books. I used to be a teacher, I’m a writer, and I love books. I love finding old books. In fact, when I walk through historic houses and see the off-limits bookshelves, lined with century-old books, my fingers itch. If no one were looking, I’d probably pick one up – delicately and with the utmost care, of course – run my hand across the bound cover and flip through the old pages.
I can picture Stanislas Gosse, at home, grading papers and nibbling on leftover meatloaf, while the map he’d found lay hidden in his desk. Eventually, he studied it and the spark of curiosity slowly turned into a burning obsession he couldn’t ignore. And then he put his plan into action.
Okay, so he had to climb the walls and hidden stairways, creep through medieval tunnels, enter the locked library, make it out with pounds of books and then escape on his bike! (Kind of like his own personal BEA, except he made it out with books more valuable than advanced reader copies. And there wasn’t a post office so he could ship them home.)
Can you imagine the thrill?
When the police arrested Gosse he still had the rope and three suitcases full of books. Talk about being caught red-handed. They found 1,000 books in his apartment.
What a great heist story.
Read the article here. And this one here. Pretty incredible.
Stanislav did receive fines, a prison sentence and community service helping the monks catalogue their books.
I love that an ordinary man turned into a daring thief. What would it take to send you over the edge to commit a crime? Or your characters?