Matilde Asensi, “The Last Cato” (2007)

matilde-asensi-the-last-cato-2007Asensi’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, Booklist, Amazon