Here is another book for DaVinci code fans. I would categorize this book as a DaVinci Code knockoff, except that it was published two years BEFORE DaVinci was. The book was originally written in Spanish (as was Shadows of the Wind, another book I will be reviewing shortly), and published in 2001. No doubt the book's current popularity, and possibly its publishing in the United States can be attributed to DaVinci, but at least the author was original.
Like DaVinci, The Last Cato revolves around a conspiracy theory and the Catholic church. However, this book has some interesting twists on the genre. First, the protagonists of the book are members of the Catholic church. One is a nun, and a member of the Vatican Archives, and another is one of the Swiss Guards, and the "muscle" of the Vatican. There is a third protagonist, but he is not a member of the church.
The second interesting twist on the genre, is that all the normal "conspiracy" ideas that these books deal with are already known. The cover-ups regarding the early history of the church are taken for granted by the protagonists (who as a result of their two roles in the church have access to classified material). This was a nce twist, as it allowed for all of the mystery and conspiracy atmosphere that the genre is known for, without casting the church as the bad guy.
DaVinci centered around secrets, hidden in great works of art. The Last Cato has a simmilar theme - Dante's Divine Comedy (in particular Purgatory) holds the secrets to a ritual for joining a secret society. This secret society has protected the true cross (the actual cross Christ was crucified on) for thousands of years. Relics of the cross have been given to various churches throughout the world, and they are now being stolen, presumably by the secret society.
The ritual deals with purging the aspirant of the seven deadly sins, and making them worthy of the role of protecting the cross. The book deals quite a bit with the history of the church, particularly the scism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Th historical (and contemporary) politics of the great churches forms a wonderful backdrop for the story, as the protagonists travel from one ancient city to another (one for each deadly sin).
This book was very well written, and well translated. The characters are well developed, and the dialog is believable. The book does fall into some cliche elements, such as the inevitable romance between the male and female leads (although the female in this case is a nun, which adds some nice twists). If you are a fan of the historical/religious mystery, I highly reccomend this book. In my opinion, it is probably better than the DaVinci code.
The book refers back to Dante's text often, however the relevant sections are always quoted, and sometimes quoted in the original language and English. The book deals with language a lot, as many of the clues are hidden in various church names, saints names, etc. A fan of languages and word puzzles will not be disappointed.