Review

The Last Cato

Matilde Asensi, translated by Pamela Carmell



It's not surprising at all that Spanish author Matilde Asensi's THE
LAST CATO was creating international buzz even before Pamela
Carmell's brilliant English translation brought it to life here.
This enormous tale of subterranean mystery, intrigue and betrayal
around a bizarre quest for the true cross of Christ has had nearly
five years to build up steam in its native tongue.


Almost from the time THE LAST CATO hit the shelves in Spanish in
2001, European reviewers saw the potential for comparing Asensi
(author of several previous bestsellers) with Dan Brown of the
recently notorious THE DA VINCI CODE. And in this case, the
comparison is as appropriate as any can be in the fluid realm where
deep scholarship meets imaginative speculation. This deliciously
murky literary world is where Asensi --- thanks to Carmell's richly
engaging and intuitive English --- deserves to be hailed as a new
world champion of convoluted plotlines and enigmatic
protagonists.


For this reader, still coming up for air after a dizzying trek at
breakneck speed through time and space in the bowels of the Roman
Catholic Church, THE LAST CATO is the new last word in postmodern
quest literature. Combining elements of medieval mystery drama,
gothic thriller, surrealist fantasy and classic travel literature,
it throws together an unlikely trio of extraordinary strangers ---
scholarly nun, unemployed linguist, and taciturn super-spy --- who
often know little more about what might happen to them next than
does the breathless reader.


Holy relics, said to be morsels of wood from the cross of Christ,
have been disappearing all over the world and the Vatican is trying
to hush up the story, while seeking to return them all to their
respective (and lucrative) shrines, monasteries and ancient
churches. But unlike most of the scandals and aberrations Mother
Church has quietly quashed over the centuries, this one won't stay
under wraps, and so extraordinary measures are called for.


Disaster happens, notoriety happens, self-discovery and secular
love happen, and skeletons come charging out of closets at almost
every turn. But the massive case of relic thefts is finally
concluded, the multi-layered mystery of a tenacious clandestine
sect is both revealed and protected, and the weary travelers each
find their personal denouement in ways they never could have
predicted.


What is astonishing and often provocative along the way is Asensi's
intricate weaving of obscure details from legitimate church
history, a critical clarity toward present-day religious
authorities, the clue-laden literary monolith of Italian poet
Dante's "Divine Comedy," a thorough knowledge of European geography
and culture, and a subtle but tensile thread of intelligent
feminism. The result is a dynamic artistic chemistry that reaches
right down to one's molecules from first page to epilogue. And once
you emerge from it all, just like Asensi's wonderfully formed
characters, you find that life "on the surface" can never be quite
the same again.


Even if you never gave the Church or its history half a passing
thought, you won't regret hitching a wild ride on THE LAST
CATO.


   














Reviewed by Pauline Finch (paulinefinch@rogers.com) on December 30, 2010

The Last Cato
Matilde Asensi, translated by Pamela Carmell

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0060828587
  • ISBN-13: 9780060828585