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Author: Simon Toyne

Title: Sanctus

Publisher: HarperCollins

Hardback: 486 pages

ISBN: 978-0-00-739155-4


Publication Date: 14/04/2011

Does such a thing as a low-concept thriller exist? This was the question that my brain decided to ask, rather childishly, as I was reading through the publicity blurb for debut novelist Simon Toyne’s “high-concept thriller” Sanctus. I still haven’t managed to resolve my own internal debate but I’d imagine that publishers wouldn’t admit if they did have a low-concept thriller [or would they?]. Getting back on topic though – and moving away from my rather inane digression – let me begin my review of this novel.

The setting for the action is the fictional city of Ruin [although there are a few brief sections set in New York and Rio de Janeiro]. Located in Turkey, Ruin is the oldest inhabited place on Earth and contains a mountainous citadel. One that houses a secretive and autonomous sect of Christian monks, known as the Sancti, who – legend has it – are the ‘protectors’ of something known as the Sacrament. So, when a man wearing the green robes of a Sanctus scales the cliffs above the Citadel and then hurls himself from its summit in full view of the world’s media, it is far more than an ordinary suicide – it is a symbolic act.  One which heralds the beginning of a prophecy that the Sancti will try to stop by any means necessary…

If it sounds very much like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – shadowy Christian sects, age-old prophecies, gun-toting monks, etc. – then that’s because Sanctus is very much cut from the same cloth as Brown and Sam Bourne. However, it must be said that Sanctus has far less conspiracy and a lot more action than The Da Vinci Code, and the prose is also a lot less stodgy – you certainly won’t find out how many panes of glass the Sancti used in their stained-glass windows [so unlucky if that’s what you were hoping for!]. And Toyne has used that publishing favourite – very short chapters [in just shy of five hundred pages there are one hundred and forty seven chapters] – to make Sanctus incredibly pacy and very easy to read. In fact, I ended up finishing the book in a little over a day! But that’s exactly what you want, and expect, from this kind of thriller.

But, for me, the stand-out element of Sanctus was the fictional Ruin – with its cave-riddled citadel, secret passageways, winding roads and corrupt police force. According to Toyne, he came up with the idea of Ruin on a trip to Rouen [Ruin – Rouen: hmmm, I think I may see the connection!]. However, with its secretive Christian state-within-a-state, Ruin also bears a striking resemblance to Rome, and I have no doubt that this is entirely intentional. Strangely though, I was also reminded of Tolkien’s Minas Tirith [which has its own citadel carved into a jutting cliff – one which Pippin scales much like the Sancti at the beginning of this novel]. But whilst it undoubtedly owes much to a number of real and literary locales, Ruin still manages to be very much its own place and it is strikingly realised by Toyne.

If I had one gripe, then it was with a subsidiary plot arc, involving a monk sent from Ruin to New York by the Abbott of the Sancti, which I didn’t feel added that much to the drive of the novel. And, on a completely unrelated note, I also noticed that characters kept “brushing” or “tucking” hair – which was more often than not described as “lank” [maybe they don’t have shampoo in Ruin] – behind their ears or out of their face. This really is a minimal thing but, rest assured, now that I’ve pointed it out you will notice it when you read the novel.

So if you enjoy your religious conspiracy thrillers fast and full of twists then Sanctus will certainly leave you satisfied. If you don’t like Dan Brown [by which I mean his novels – it would be rather harsh if you disliked him personally!] then Sanctus is probably not for you. But if you loved The Da Vinci Code – and there are millions of you out there – then you will certainly enjoy this slice of pure entertainment.
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