Friday, July 07, 2006

The Secret Supper

The first impression most would get from The Secret Supper is that its author Javier Sierra was hoping to cash in on the success of The Da Vinci Code. In Sierra’s defense, he started on this book years before the latter book was published. This worked out well for Sierra, which he points out on his website, as he was able to easily access many of the places now clogged with tourists because of Dan Brown’s blockbuster. This also works well for him, because people eager for more of what The Da Vinci Code offered are turning to Sierra’s The Secret Supper as an adequate “between-Dan-Brown-novels snack.”

Enough with The Da Vinci Code. Sierra’s book offers up its own religious conspiracy theory on da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper.” Our guide through this tale is an inquisitor with the Catholic Church in 1497. Father Agostino Leyre is sent to Milan after Rome has received several letters from a mysterious agent calling himself the “Soothsayer.” The letters warn of a corruption of the church within Milan. Agostino’s mission is to find the Soothsayer and learn what he knows to determine if the corruption is true. The only lead to the Soothsayer is a riddle contained within his letters, but deciphering it proves a near impossible task.

Sierra employs a blend of first and third person storytelling here, and I can’t say the results work. Hurting matters is the manner in which Sierra creates the first person voice. He uses a diary of the events Agostino writes in the latter years of his life. He intends for this record to be buried with him, and yet within the same “document” he addresses the reader, even though he states he does not believe anyone will ever read this document. It’s overly dramatic, and the execution does not work well, because of the third person sections. The reader does require these third person scenes, but there are moments within the book where Sierra almost seems confused as to whether he’s telling the scene third person or through Agostino’s narrative. Even in the book’s “post-scriptum,” we’re rather clumsily taken from Agostino’s personal reflections to the author’s telling of how Agostino dies. I am reading an advanced reader’s copy, so some things might have been fixed for the final publication. Somehow, I don’t think that happens, though. In the end, he’d have done much better to stick with third person, if for no other reason than to at least make Agostino’s fate less certain.

I have to hesitate on just how far I criticize the writing, because this book isn’t the original voice intended by the writer. Sierra’s chosen language is Spanish, and this book is a translation. That does create some questions as to what might have worked in its original form and no longer does because of the translation. A lot of the names confused me. Sierra could do little about that, no matter what language he used. With so many characters based on real people, he couldn’t simply grant us names that are easy to grasp. In more than one chapter, I found myself scratching my head and asking, “Now, who is this person again? Have I even read anything about him before now?” I just couldn’t always keep it straight.

I also found the front of the book rather heavy in exposition. That’s not something that can be written off to the translation. Another complaint I have is that some good opportunities were lost for character development, especially near the end of the book with the main character. By this point in the story, I got the impression Sierra was eager to get to the real selling point to this book, exactly what the “secret” in da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper” really is.

This book might have worked better had Sierra placed more emphasis upon the murder mystery aspect of the story. I think this would have given the plot more focus, elevated the tension and improved the pace. The book’s saving grace is the twist at the end, the secret itself. Yes, Sierra makes good on this, but it’s a convoluted path to get there.

Other Books by Javier Sierra:

Despite my various gripes, I really enjoyed reading this book. Among my reasons for enjoying it: I happened upon my copy of The Secret Supper by way of the AOL Book Maven’s blog. Not only a free copy of this book, but one signed by the author. I also enjoyed The Secret Supper because it’s not something I normally would have considered reading. I’m not opposed to historical thrillers, but Da Vinci Code burnout might have unfairly made me reluctant to try Sierra’s book. This book made for a refreshing change of pace.

Speaking of historical thrillers, let me make a quick plug for The Assassins Gallery by David L. Robbins. His book comes out July 24th., and as I found out this past May, it’s a damn good read.

For now, I’ve decided to stick with the historical thrillers, so my next read will be Pompeii by Robert Harris.

1 comment:

Zinnia said...

I recognize the Napoleon book.