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    Review of THE LAST CATO by Matilde Asensi

    Rayo, April 2006

    For a thousand years, the True Cross was at the center of Christian thought. Discovered by St. Helena, recovered by the Byzantines from the Persians, lost to the Arabs but recovered by the Crusaders, the Cross abruptly vanished from history. Still, pieces of it remain. Deep in the crypts under Catholic and Orthodox churches, small slivers from the True Cross still evoke reverence and awe. But now someone is stealing them.

    Vatican researcher and nun Dr. Octavia Salina, is called by the Vatican secretary of state to undertake a mission. A man, his body ritually scarred with Greek letters and occult symbols has been found dead. In itself, that would not be a concern for the Catholic Church, but this particular man had with him stolen bits of the True Cross. This man might be dead, but pieces of the Cross continue to vanish. Together with Swiss Guard Captain Glauser-Roist, and eventually Egyptian researcher Farag Boswell, Octavia gradually unveils the meaning of the ritual scars. But her discoveries only point to another challenge. Dante's Divine Comedy is not just a story of religious allegory. It's also a roadmap to the "earthly paradise" where the defenders of the Cross, long thought vanished from Earth have hidden. It is they whom Octavia and the others must confront, but they can confront them only by taking the seven step challenge outlined by Dante--the stages of his road through Purgatory.

    Author Matilde Asensi creates interesting characters in Octavia, Glauser-Roist, and Farag, but the real interest in this religious-themed thriller is the mystery of the Cross and that band of holy soldiers who preserved it over the centuries--and who were eventually scorned and excomunicated by the Crusading knights. The use of The Divine Comedy as a roadmap to earthly tests is clever and Asensi handles it convincingly. The evolving relationship between Octavia, Glauser-Roist, and Farag is a bit obvious, but considering Octavia's status as a nun, introduces additional conflict.

    I suspect that the Catholic Church wouldn't really send its researchers out with as little equipment and supervision as these three got, but exposing them to the power and danger of Purgatory with nothing but their wits, bravery, and a couple of sandwiches between them and destruction adds to the suspense.

    THE LAST CATO was originally written in Spanish but the English translation is highly readable. If you're looking for a superior religious thriller, THE LAST CATO is a good one to try.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 5/08/06

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