Sanctus by Simon Toyne

I really dislike the term “throw away” when referring to a piece of entertainment, despite my own use of the word. It’s often used to describe something that entertains but doesn’t impact that landscape of entertainment, or perhaps doesn’t stay with you. For books, specifically, there is another term for it – airport books or holiday read. These are generally something not overly taxing and are a perfect choice to while away a bout of sunbathing. These terms are degrading to the books they represent and repeatedly these novels are stuffed into a genre rather than being enjoyed for a gripping story.

Sanctus, by Simon Toyne certainly fits into this generalisation. Simon is being branded as a successor to Dan Brown because his debut novel deals with religious conspiracy and death in the name of God, etc. It’s a thrilling read that may be at times a little over the top or predictable, but still holds the reader in its grasp until the final cliffhanging pages. So, it may be described as “throw away” fiction by some, but those people are missing out on a great book.

There’s nothing wrong with switching off and being thrilled for a number of hours as shootouts occur or monks stab each other in the back. Sanctus is set in Turkey and around the Citadel which is the oldest inhabited place on Earth. The Citadel is currently inhabited by an order of sinister monks (the Sancti) who are as secretive as they are sinister.

The novel starts as it means to go on as the book opens and we see a monk climbing the citadel cliffs and standing in the shape of a cross on top before jumping to his death. The crux is that he has done this in order to deliver a message to those outside of the Citadel. The message is the most kept of the monks secrets and they will stop at nothing to make sure nobody hears there truths.

When I say nothing, I mean it. There are gun fights, explosions, many murders and an overbearing sense of impending doom. Toyne has made these monks incredibly dangerous, not to mention ruthless and our central cast of characters are always facing some kind of danger. Liv, an American reporter, turns out to be the dead monk’s sister and travels to Turkey to bring home the body of her brother but soon finds herself the target of the Sancti.

We then have Kathryn Mann and her son, Gabriel who are members of an opposing religion and will also stop at nothing to ensure the Sancti’s secret is known to the world. Thrown into that mix are the usual police officers and of course we have murderous monks, too. There’s certainly a plethora of protagonists to root for and this is perhaps Toyne’s main talent. He gives us so many people to watch that we never really grasp who anybody is and what their motives may be. This of course leads to plenty of twists and turns that are both intriguing and rewarding as each one is revealed.

The number of characters is also a slight curse; however, as I never really felt like I got to know any of them. Bar Liv who explains her back-story a little to flesh out her brothers, we never really get invited into the characters personalities. This leaves many of the suspenseful sections without as much punch as they perhaps would have if I cared for each member of the ensemble.

There’s still plenty of suspense that gets through, though. In fact I was always eager for one more of the short chapters so that I could find out where the tale would take us next. To coin a very common and overused phrase, it’s a real “page turner”, in fact while I’m at it here’s another – it’s very “unputdownable”. Toyne has penned a wonderfully over the top and punchy piece of fiction.

The only other drawback for me, though it is very slight, was the last 50 or so pages where things went from farfetched to extremely bonkers. For me, the dénouement didn’t really fit in with the rest of the novel. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, at all, but it was jarring. Regardless it still left me wanting to know what happens in The Key; Toyne’s follow up and second part of the trilogy.

Sanctus is cinematic in its narrative, full of excitement and keeps the reader hooked throughout its entirety. It will have the same effect whether on a beach in Spain or in rainy Britain sat on a comfy sofa. No matter how you read it, it’s a cracking book.

Published by Harper. This book was purchased and read on Kindle.

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