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Last Cato Hardcover – Apr 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 458 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Fiction (April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060828579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060828578
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 771 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #539,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

When the murder of an Ethiopian man covered with enigmatic tattoos roils the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic Church, Sister Ottavia Salina, head of the Restoration and Paleography Laboratory of the Vatican's Classified Archives, is called to interpret the symbolism of his "scarifications." Church officials inform Dr. Salina that the Ethiopian was but one of many who are stealing Ligna Crucis, relics of the original cross upon which Christ was crucified, from church reliquaries around the globe. The church charges her and two men—a captain of the pope's Swiss Guard, Kaspar Glauser-Roïst, and an Egyptian archeologist, Farag Boswell (whom she later falls for after 39 years of celibacy)—to retrieve the relics. Before you can say Da Vinci Code, the trio plunge into an eddy of intrigue and danger as they encounter a mysterious secret brotherhood and wend their way along a labyrinthine journey of initiation rituals—with clues provided by Dante's Divine Comedy. Asensi's first novel to be translated into English is formulaic, but readers with insatiable appetites for church history, secret societies and weird initiation rituals will find some delights. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Asensi's first novel to be published in English features a clandestine religious organization, a code contained in the work of a long-dead genius, a plucky heroine, and just the right combination of obscure history and plausible conjecture. Sound familiar? The Last Cato will inevitably draw comparisons to The Da Vinci Code, but this book is in many ways more compelling, if a bit less accessible. After Dr. Ottavia Salina, a nun working as a paleographer at the Vatican, is asked to decipher tattoos on the dead body of an "enemy of the Church" from Ethiopia, she soon discovers the deceased was tied up with the Staurofilakes, an ancient order who have sought to protect the True Cross and now seem to be stealing slivers of it from around the world. The key to tracking them down? Dante's Divine Comedy. Turns out that Dante was a member of the order himself, and that the notoriously dense Divine Comedy is a kind of coded guidebook to the order's rituals. Salina and a couple companions set off, with Dante as their guide, on a rollicking, round-the-world adventure. Some of the conjecture seems far-fetched, but the research is impeccable, and the behind-the-scenes Vatican life feels utterly authentic. As engrossing as it is intelligent, this just might be the next big book in the burgeoning religious thriller subgenre. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you have read Iacobus, you should read this book. Reading the Sinopsis may lead you to think "Oh no, another Da Vinci Code".... you couldn't be more wrong!! The begining seem similar but the barebone is completely different. In the "Code" the Holy Grial is the central theme, whereas in here is the Cross of Christ and a Secret Order that protects it. In Asensi's peculiar and amazing use of language you just can't stop reading. One just have to wonder how many treasures and knowledge the Vatican has.... Excellent book, highly recommendable. Historic accuracy and background checking as usual is impecable. Enjoy !
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 183 reviews
60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful book - not a DaVinci Code knockoff! April 23 2006
By ellen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At first I resisted getting this book, because I thought it was another DaVinci Code knockoff - then I saw it was written BEFORE Dan Brown's hit novel, and got it. And boy, am I glad I did! Beware if you are interested in this book, not to look too hard at the book description printed on this book's Amazon computer page - it has a big plot spoiler in it - But the book is wonderful, and is the 3rd book I literally was upset to finish! (The first was Angels and Demons, the second was Carved in Bone)
As an English major, I was familiar with Dante's The Divine Comedy - not my favorite work - but Dante did for this quest what Leonardo did for Brown's book. The quest, dealing with pieces of the Holy Cross that Jesus was crucified on, takes us on a grand adventure in many wonderful cities - As a Greek Orthodox Christian, was glad there were many accurate descriptions of different sites and priests - even the Patriarch in Constantinople - Also my name is deals with Helen and Constantine, so I was more tweeked with curiosity . The only thing I didn't like, and this was due to translation issues, is they especially at the beginning kept calling our churches as temples - Some folks still think we worship Zeus in temples, and in the translation the word church was printed as temple - but if that's the greatest thing wrong with this book no prob. Also beware, the chapters are 40 pages+ or so - This is a wonderful book filled with adventure, history, romance, and just about everything that makes you pick up a book and read it - This is definitely worth reading!!!!!!!!!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A very good read Dec 24 2006
By MJZ - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Wasn't too sure about this one at first, and I went back and forth before I decided to buy it. It turned out to be one of those books you are actually dissapointed when it ends and there isn't a sequal. The charachters are fantastic! It's been a long time since I've read a book where the people in it were very real and alive. Asensi did a beautiful job in that. Regardless of the other reviews that complain about the translation, I had no problem whatsoever with it. It flowed and read like a well written novel should. The plot was gripping and the history and descriptions of all the places were so well done. The ending was just a bit, well, kind of sappy, so the 4 stars instead of 5, but that by no means took away any of the enjoyment I got from reading it. If you like history, travel and a good thriller, you will like this book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Sorry .... I couldn't believe it July 25 2008
By Peter A. Kimball - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book lies at the epicenter of a triangle whose vertices are "The DaVinci Code", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", and "The Magic Flute". I hasten to note that "The Last Cato" was written before Dan Brown's novel, so, when the narrator, Dr. Ottavio Salina, the famous paleographer, is recruited by her superiors at the Vatican to untangle a centuries-old religious conspiracy, and you say "this is just like Robert Langdon, the symbologist", remember that Asensi is not borrowing from Brown. Although I wouldn't at all be surprised to find out that Ms. Asensi saw the Indiana Jones movie! Don't buy this in expectation of bloody climaxes and killer Nazi/Opus Dei guys though. I cited Mozart for a reason.

I have a bias toward novels with elaborate scholarly puzzles in them, so when find out from a book jacket that the protagonists are going to decode Dante and track down the True Cross, I am full of anticipatory pleasure as we plunge into Codices and Byzantine history and archaeological digs. But ultimately I can't recommend the book. I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief for this kind of thing, but ultimately Ms. Asensi just asks too much.

I'm not even talking only about how vast in scope and flawless in execution this previously undetected age-old conspiracy has to be, or how they are supposed to get Universal Studios-style special effects with Graeco-Roman technology. I can grumble about that, but I can live with it if I have to.

But even more unbelievable is the social psychology of it all. Do you believe, for example, that it's possible to develop a series of physical and mental ordeals such that "those who pass them [are] incapable of doing gratuitous, senseless harm"? If that were so, wouldn't the Green Berets be going around doing good like Franciscan monks? It's not a problem for it if a character believes such things, but it gets to be a problem when the author does.

Throughout the book, people act like nobody would really act, both on an individual level and as collectives and institutions. I'm talking not only about the adventurer protagonists -- I'm talking about the Vatican itself, which supposedly wants them to find "the answer" and would rather they not die halfway through, but when it comes down to it is repeatedly content to send them off to hunt like so many ferrets sent down a badger hole and wait passively for their return.

At one point, for instance, the protagonists are stuck in what amounts to a hedge maze. Nobody has thought to bring in a cell phone, or a GPS locator, or a satellite photograph of the area. They could have. Nobody on the outside apparently feels like doing anything to make sure they aren't dead, like looking for them with a helicopter (they HAVE helicopters). For some reason, everybody is "sticking to the rules", as if Salina and company were out for a day of orienteering or something. And the whole book is like this. Of course we all realize that the author wants us to concentrate on the puzzles and challenges, and that it might be a poor piece of fiction if they just blasted through everything with rock drills and the Air Force and so on, but you have to have some plausible reason why people act as they do, don't you?

I know what has happened here, really - the author has gotten overly focused on the intellectual problems involved; she has worked hard to create a set of puzzles and she thinks that by doing so she has done all the work she really has to. But I disagree. Creating a novel is a puzzle of a different kind - somehow you have to put the pieces together in a way that makes the reader think that this sort of thing might really happen. (Leaving aside obvious fantastic/allegorical fiction, that is.) I don't think Ms. Asensi devoted nearly enough attention to this last step.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Do you like good thrillers? Feb. 25 2006
By Clara Haskil - Published on
Format: Hardcover
You have one here. Documented, terribly imaginative, intriguing, with interesting and unusual main characters ... You will not find here another hyper-attractive and boring "Indiana Jones" man playing the principal role, but ... a nun !! And middle aged !!

But the best thing is that you will even like her, and will not be able to stop reading till the book is finished.

Just try. I have read 4 of Asensi's novels (all in spanish), and I think this one is the best of them. Recommended.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
"The Last Cato," featuring: A Secret Brotherhood, The "True Cross" & Dante's "Divine Comedy!" April 24 2006
By Jana L.Perskie - Published on
Format: Hardcover
3.5 STARS. Of all the many offshoots and permutations of Dan Browns "The DaVinci Code," ("The Secret Supper," "The Last Templar," "The Rule of Four," etc., etc.), 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. However, "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.

As I wrote above, the historical aspect of the novel is interesting. Character development is nil, but this is a plot driven historical mystery. I do wish writers would become inspired by another topic! This one is getting stale.