Javier Sierra's novel The Secret Supper is due to be published in the UK (by Simon and Schuster) on 6 March this year, and in the US (by Atria, a sub-division of S&S) on 21 March. In the UK, S&S are banging the drum already, chiefly by distributing advance reading copies, one of which I have read.
This novel has an interesting history. Javier Sierra is Spanish, and his book was first published in Spain in October 2004. (Remember that date.) It was a huge hit in his native land, selling over 200,000 copies in hardcover. Since then rights have been sold in 30 other countries.
So what's it about?
Well, all the principal events occur in Milan, in 1497, and the story is narrated, mostly, by an old man called Father Agostino Leyre. Evidently a real person, as are many other characters in the book, Leyre spent his declining years as a cave-dwelling hermit in Egypt. But in 1497 he was an important official in the Church of Rome.
Leyre is sent to Milan because of rumours surrounding the painting of the Last Supper which Leonardo da Vinci is currently completing. The word is that Leonardo is using the painting to include coded messages which spread ideas which are seriously in conflict with those of the Church. Leyre's job is to find out if these rumours are true, and, if they are, to decode the painting.
At which point you may groan and say to yourself, Oh yes, another rip-off of The Da Vinci Code.
But hold... The author tells us (and I have no reason to doubt it), that he spent three years in researching and writing his book. If we assume that he completed the work one year before publication in Spain, that means that his groundwork was done between 2000 and 2003. And, since the Dan Brown thingy wasn't published until mid 2003, I think we can rule out any question of influence.
There is a question, however, as to how good or bad an effect the whole Da Vinci phenomenon will have on the sales of this book. No one can doubt that it will have some effect: and the publishers insist on mentioning it in every piece of supporting material, so they obviously think it's a Good Thing. We shall see.
And the next question is, is the book any good?
Well, I certainly found it interesting. But then I'm a European, with an interest in the Renaissance and the Reformation. And the nature of the book is such, I suspect, that it is going to have far greater appeal in countries which have largely Roman Catholic populations than in places where Protestantism is the norm. Or, to put it another way, countries where people take religion rather more seriously than is the case in the UK.
There are some murders in the book, but the revelation of who committed them is dealt with as if it was of very little interest. So this certainly isn't a whodunit, or even much of a thriller. The whole attention of the characters, and of the author, is focused on interpreting Leonardo's famous painting, and what it is intended to mean. And I must confess that I learnt a great deal more about that painting, from reading this book, than I had ever known before.
So, a tolerably interesting read. But is it going to appeal to those who lapped up Dan Brown? I am inclined to doubt it. But the endless publicity for Dan Brown's extraordinarily long-lasting bestseller will probably generate enough heat to make this one a success too.
I do hope that, before this book is printed in the final hardcover edition, someone corrects not only the typos but also the bizarre layout of the conclusion. The footnote on page 311 is in absolutely the wrong place, in my opinion; in the ARC its placement totally kills the impact of the last word on that page. The information conveyed in that footnote properly belongs in the Author's Notes, on page 318.
The last two paragraphs of the Post-Scriptum (on pages 316/317 of the ARC), also belong in the Author's Notes.
As part of the publicity drive, there is an English-language official web site for the author, and a web site specifically for the book.