Monday, March 28, 2011

SANCTUS by Simon Toyne (from the ARC forthcoming May 2011 UK, Sept 2011 Canada) HarperCollins, 474 pages

Are you a fan of smart literary thrillers? Think of Andrew Pyper's LOST GIRLS, THE WILDFIRE SEASON, THE KILLING CIRCLE and THE GUARDIANS or titles by Kate Atkinson including CASE HISTORIES and STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG. Well, Simon Toyne is a sparkling new voice in the genre. SANCTUS is his debut novel and has already sold to 40 countries, is due to be translated into 23 languages and the enthusiasm continues to build worldwide. It will be published by HarperCollins Canada in September 2011.

I am lucky enough to have been given an Advance Reading Copy. It arrived on a Friday and I shirked social commitments that night to read it in two sittings. Toyne's storytelling is seductive and addicting. You'll see.

Set primarily in contemporary Turkey on a mountaintop above a tourist destination, SANCTUS also travels to Rio de Janeiro and New York City to landscapes more familiar both physically and emotionally. The epigraph, "A man is a god in ruins," (Ralph Waldo Emerson) exquisitely gestures to the crux of the story. But, tempting though it is, I will not reveal that here.

What you may know, however, is that there is a secret society of monks who live a reclusive life in Ruin, Turkey where they protect their Sacrament with a ferocity and determination that borders on sociopathology. No one outside of their cloistered community knows exactly what the Sacrament is, though one brave soul, Brother Samuel, risks his life to show the world clues to the rebus preserved inside their Citadel. When his dangerous, symbolic act is witnessed not only by tourists milling about, but also through the transmission of that very act through hand-held devices and lurking media, the world soon knows about this extraordinary moment.

There are immediate rippling effects that only a few folks understand: development aid worker Kathryn Mann and a handful of her intimates dare to hope that a new beginning is at hand; New York City reporter Liv Adamsen wonders if perhaps what might be the reappearance of her long lost brother will help her to solve lifelong questions she's had about herself.

The chapters are short. The pace lightning-quick. I found myself putting off routines like preparing meals and walking the dog to keep reading.

Simon Toyne has penned a gripping, taut narrative that will have you questioning everything about the characters, about yourself, and about the true nature of faith. You don't want to miss this brilliant debut, the success of which will surely herald more books to come.

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