The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

“Like the Arabian brotherhood of hashishim, the legendary Knights Templar waited for the Desired Knight to rescue the world from tyranny and establish the benevolent rule of the Grail.”
— Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Enclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Whenever I read a 454 page book in one sitting, it’s probably a safe bet for me to think that other people will like the book. Not that my criteria for excellence necessarily matches that of the literary masses — but the words “breakout thriller” certainly apply here. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is going to make publishing history. Trust me. There are already tables at the local Barnes & Nobles featuring books about the Freemasons, biographies of Leonardo Da Vinci, guidebooks to the Louvre and Renaissance art, all centered around Brown’s book. And the book has been out less than two weeks.

It’s good, damn good. The Da Vinci Code has all the right ingredients to create a massive market share of the fiction sold during the next year. The characters are believable, the fictional premise intriguing, and it has two major components to insure sales — the Knights Templar and the search for the Holy Grail.

The book received the kind of “push” from Doubleday usually reserved for the likes of John Grisham and Daniel Steele. They’re extremely pleased by the advance copy sales and overwhelming support of retailers for the book. Brown, who quietly moved from Pocket to his new publishing house Doubleday when senior editor Jason Kaufman, (publisher of Brown’s two previous books) moved to there in 2001. Brown received a small advance, a boon to Doubleday who can now spend money on a literary show of force, pushing the book with sales incentives and an extensive advertising campaign. According to publishing pundits, many houses held back their spring releases because of the February 2nd laydown of John Grisham’s latest King of Torts. Brown’s book received a slam dunk response from advance copies to reviewers and booksellers sent out months ahead of publication (Doubleday gave out 5,000 advance reader copies at regional shows and in the field last year). Doubleday reps devoted themselves to making sure the book received prominent display space, something not usually reserved for breakout books. The house will even launch a website where readers can attempt to “break the code”. Brown has also committed to a six-city promotion tour, but as the response for this book will probably multiply exponentially, I suspect he’ll be going to more than six.

When publishing houses throw books at us, often we, as reviewers are disappointed. The writing lacks substance; the plot fails to hold our interest; or perhaps the characters aren’t fully developed. Then, after writing a review of the book, an honest take on what we consider an inferior book, we see the book on the New York Times Best Seller List. We can’t help but wonder about the effect of massive advertising campaigns upon sales by the reading public. Take heart, reviewers and readers, The Da Vinci Code will be on the list and it belongs there.

You all deserve a quick plot summary. Know that there can’t be one here — the book is a thriller and details will destroy it for you. I just had to delete the next 250 or more words I’d written, because I realized it would destroy the suspense in the book. I’d defined the Holy Grail in terms of Celtic, Moor (pick your pagan) traditions. Then I wrote about the myths surrounding the Knights Templar, the persecution of Jews, the relationship between Jesus and his love, Mary Magdalene, and more. What I can tell you without ruining the book, is that Brown’s book takes myth and reality and combines it in just the right way. He appears to be right on target with his many of his conclusions, and while the book is “fiction”, one can’t help but believe much of it. Brown doesn’t insist you believe him, in fact, he’s almost apologetic about how strange and unusual his conclusions may sound. In a subtle way, he warns the reader that everyone is allowed their own belief system and whatever gives someone spiritual comfort should be respected. But Using Will and Ariel Durant’s The History of Civilization, Francis and Joseph Gies’ Women in the Middle Ages, and Barbara Walker’s The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets to confirm Brown’s facts, I learned that when he puts two and two together, it’s amazing what he comes up with.

This book will have what is probably an unintentional effect. The Da Vinci Code counteracts the WalMart best sellers by Tim LaHaye. Brown presents an intellectual and fact-based suspense thriller that will hopefully start a trend toward debunking the misquoted myths and errant Biblical interpretations perpetuated to financially support LaHaye’s ministry, encourage the arrogance of born-again Christians, and scare people into “being saved”. One can’t help but wonder when the fanatics of the religious right will rise up in defense of the End Times series and call for a boycott of The Da Vinci Code. Go ahead and start your indignant engines. Such publicity will only increase sales for Doubleday and Brown.