Summary: Holding Sophie and Langdon at gunpoint, Vernet insists that they give him Saunière’s deposit box. He also mentions that he suspects the two fugitives to be involved in the other three deaths being reported on the radio. Langdon realizes the significance of this fact: all four sénéchaux of the Priory have been murdered. Vernet shoots once. Langdon moves to hand over the box. As he does so, he secretly brushes the gun’s spent shell into the lower groove of the truck’s cargo door. Thus, when Vernet tries to lock the cargo bay, he is unable to do so. His efforts to lock the door only end up with the door hitting him in the face and knocking him to the ground. Seizing their advantage, Langdon and Sophie escape in the truck, the box—and the Priory Keystone—still safely in their possession.
Analysis: The revelation of Vernet as an antagonist at the end of the previous chapter comes as a surprise—testimony to Brown’s skill as a narrator and a plotter. After all, Brown established with Vernet’s initial appearance that he is a man who is concerned above all with what’s good for his bank. Now, in this chapter, Vernet frames the motivation for his action along precisely those lines: “I have a duty to protect your grandfather’s assets… And that is exactly what I am doing” (p. 226). And while Vernet is acting as an antagonist at this point, it may prove difficult for readers to cast him in the role of outright villain. (Langdon himself muses a few pages on, “Vernet hardly seemed the type,” Ch. 51, p. 232.) As his ironic failure to understand the full significance of the evening’s four murders proves—ironic because he uses it to justify his treatment of Langdon and Sophie: “Had I known the extent of your crimes…” (p. 227)—he is a man caught up in circumstances far larger than he or his immediate interests. These circumstances do not, perhaps, excuse his actions, but they do at least mitigate them. (On the other hand, given that we have already seen in the murderous Silas an extreme example of what a misguided sense of “duty” can lead some people to do, readers could also harbor ongoing doubts about Vernet!)