Matilde Asensi

"The Last Cato"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAY 1, 2006)

"Men of sound intellect and probity,
Weigh with good understanding what lies hidden
Behind the veil of my strange allegory."

Canto !X of "The Infierno" by Dante Alighieri

The Last Cato by Matilde Asensi

Of all the many offshoots and permutations of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, Matilde Asensi's The Last Cato is the most interesting. To give the author credit, she did publish this mystery adventure novel, chock full of fascinating early Christian history and contemporary Vatican politics, in Spanish almost two years before Mr. Brown's mega-seller hit the markets. Still, The Last Cato leaves much to be desired. Whether one agrees with Brown's premise or not, The DaVinci Code is truly unputdownable. The pacing is fast and furious, the writing is intelligent, the plot and action varied. It is certainly not a boring book! While I really enjoyed the historical information in The Last Cato, the writing is frequently ponderous and the storyline quite contrived and repetitious. There is also a romantic element that I could really have done without...way too calculated to be convincing.

Dr. Ottavia Salina, a brilliant and noted paleographer is a nun, a member of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She holds a doctorate in paleography and art history along with numerous other academic titles and is the Director of the Vatican's Classified Archives. So she possesses quite a pedigree and is a spunky lady to boot. The powers that be in the Vatican, including the Pope, order Sister Ottavia to investigate a series of bizarre crimes and the details surrounding the episode(s).

A small rented Cessna had crashed into Mt. Helmos, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. Among the dead is an Ethiopian passenger, Abi-Ruj Iyasus. The man's body is covered with tattoos, or scarifications, which include Greek letters, crosses and other symbols. Mr. Iyasus was apparently involved in the theft of priceless, sacred relics, pieces of the True Cross, and Dr. Salina is ordered to analyze and decipher the symbols found on his corpse. She is assigned to help solve the mystery of the theft and to recover the stolen relics. Assisting her is Captain Kaspar Glauser-Roist, a seemingly sinister type who is a member of the Swiss Guard and allegedly the Vatican's "black hand." He is also a hunk. Another expert involved in the investigation is Professor Farag Boswell, an atheist with a Coptic Christian background from the ancient city of Alexandria. He is the grandson of the man who discovered the Byzantine City of Oxirrinco, and an archeologist in his own right with academic credentials as noteworthy as the Sister's. Although eccentric, which makes for a better read, he is another a hottie. (All this sexiness...and in a book about religion too!!!)

Yes...a secret society is involved in the storyline - this one called The Staurofilakes, (not the Opus Dei this time around), which is headed by a "Cato." The trio of amateur sleuths discover that the key to finding the whereabouts of the Staurofilakes, the True Cross, or at least splinters of it, and to achieve "earthly paradise," lies within the text of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy." The tests they must pass in order to move forward in their search is kind of like a board game, and like many board games the process becomes repetitious.

The historical aspect of the novel is interesting. Character development is nil, but this is a plot driven historical mystery, so enjoy it for what it is.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Last Cato at HarperCollins

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About the Author:

matilde asensiMaltide Asensi was born in Alicante, Spain and studied journalism at the University of Barcelona. After beginning her career on local radio she worked for Spanish national radio, responsible for reporting local news, while working simultaneously for a number of press agencies and magazines.

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