The Da Vinci Code
Reviewed: August 3, 2005
By: Dan Brown
464 pages, $37.95
It’s been over two years since The
Da Vinci Code first appeared and as of this week the hardcover edition
is still holding down the number 5 spot of the New York Times bestseller list.
The book has spurred the re-release
of Brown’s three previous novels in paperback editions and, unusually, new
hardcover editions of both the Robert Langdon books. Angels and Demons
and the Code can be seen all across the country in oversized, lavishly
illustrated editions that provide pictures of all the artwork and scenery
used in the novels. This sort of treatment is generally reserved for deluxe
editions of the Bible or 25th anniversary editions of famous works
It’s weird. Usually the book would
have made it to paperback by now, but the only edition I can find is in French.
A friend did come back from a trip to England with a paperback edition, but
there’s not one in English in North America yet.
Part of this is explained by the notoriety
that the book has achieved. It has been featured in all the major newsmagazines
and countless newspaper articles. A quick Google search yields more than two
million reference hits.
It’s all because of the religious angle.
Time and MacLean’s could have predicted this. The publishers
of each magazine know that the fastest way to boost sales is to feature a
cover story on some aspect of the Christian Church, and that Christ covers
are a big draw for the newsstand edition. They’d use them more than the twice
a year they do if they could find an excuse. This year, the death of Pope
Jean-Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict provided them with extra related
I’ve read Dan Brown’s other books,
and enjoyed them, even though, as I’ve said here before, they work on the
level of pulp fiction and are seriously formulaic. If you’ve read one of them
and spotted the main villain then you will always be able to spot the character
who fills that role in his other books, even though he also fills his plots
with lots of red herrings and other people who look like they ought to be
But the stories are still fun. So,
naturally, I wanted to read The Da Vinci Code, even though I’ve
already read some of the books Brown used as the source material for the Big
Idea behind the conspiracy in this book, just as I had when I read Angels
If you want to know where the Templar
conspiracy comes from, as well as the notion that Jesus married Mary Magdalene
and they had a family, all you really have to do is grab a copy of the book
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard
Leigh (recently reissued in paperback, and in an oversized illustrated version
as well - how about that?). It has most of the main points. Books on the history
of the Knights Templar provide the rest.
I just wasn’t willing to pay $39 for
the Code. I got tired of waiting for the paperback and downloaded a
digital version to carry on my palm handheld for a third of that. It kept
me entertained in several shopping malls in Ontario while my wife was trying
to find stores that sold something other than low-rise pants for women.
If you’ve read the first Langdon book,
you will blink as the Code begins. The two books are structurally so
similar that Brown even has Langdon comment on it in the text of Code.
You wouldn’t want to read the two books too close together. It would be like
like reading old Shadow and Doc Savage pulp novels too close to each other
- the plots run together as the chase-encounter-defeat escape-revelation cycle
The biggest difference in Langdon’s
situation this time is that he’s a suspect in the grisly murder instead of
just a consultant. This rest works out the same, even to have him meet and
collaborate with a strong female partner who often seems to know as much about
what’s going on as he does and is frequently more physically pro-active.
As in Angels and Demons, there
is a really nasty religious fanatic murdering people all through the book.
He is an acolyte of the leader of Opus Dei, a very conservative Roman Catholic
organization with a mission to save the church from liberalism and from the
Grail secret that could destroy it. Both of these men are being manipulated
by a mysterious stranger who calls himself the Teacher.
The curator of the Louvre Museum is
the custodian of a very important secret. He is murdered by the albino assassin
before he can pass it on to his niece, Sophie Neveu, who happens to work as
a cryptanalyst for the Paris police. She and Langdon have to escape a city
wide manhunt for him and, at the same time, unlock the labyrinthine puzzles
within which Sophie’s uncle has hidden his secret.
There are lots of word games, chases
and near misses to keep us interested, enough even to outweigh the ton of
expository dialogue in which the characters explain to each other what is
going on and all the secret lore behind it.
The book kept me reading, even though
I knew where it was going, so I guess that says something for Brown’s ability
with a story.
As far as the theology and history
which seems to be exciting such interest, you can ignore it except for the
purposes of the story. Those who want to make serious discussion topics out
of the ideas in this plot really need to do some research of their own. It’s
a story, and it bears as much resemblance to truth as the average episode
of the X-Files did to any real FBI investigation.