Pros: Interesting mystery. Main characters likable. Easy to read.
Cons: Heavy-handed critique of Catholic Church. Some elements of the writing. Character development.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is continuing its three-year reign atop the Best Sellers lists. A recent news article by the Associated Press* stated that The Da Vinci Code has sold over 40 million hardcover copies worldwide. And now the publisher is printing 6 million paperback editions! With so much fuss going on about this book I finally decided to check it out.
In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard Professor of Religious Symbology Robert Langdon is visiting Paris to give a lecture on pagan symbols. Langdon is awakened in the middle of the night and summoned to The Louvre Museum by the Direction Centrale Police Judiciaire (DCPJ), which is France's equivalent of the FBI. He quickly learns that a curator he was supposed to meet at The Louvre, Jacques Sauniere, has been found murdered in the museum. And his body is contorted in a way that is reminiscent of a well-known symbol.
Langdon meets Captain Bezu Fache of the DCPJ at The Louvre, who begins quizzing him about his relationship with the deceased curator. However, Langdon does not know Sauniere except that he had received a mysterious request from the now-deceased curator to meet with him. Fache now shows him the body and the mystifying messages, and asks him about his unpublished manuscript called Symbols of the Lost Scared Feminine. But Langdon is puzzled about the question since only his editor has seen the manuscript so far.
As the investigation gets underway, the attractive DCPJ Agent Sophie Neveu contacts Captain Fache. She in a cryptologist with the DCPJ, and invites herself to be part of the investigation over Fache's objections. Neveu and Langdon soon interpret the symbols around Sauniere's body, and note connections to the world renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci. Neveu soon convinces Langdon that he is being framed for the murder, and that she will help him escape and later unravel the strange symbolic messages.
In the meantime a bizarre-looking albino monk named Silas is stalking about Paris in the middle of the night. Silas is a disciple of the Opus Dei subgroup within the Catholic Church, and an ardent practitioner of corporal mortification. He wears a spiked belt around his thigh which cuts his flesh, and also flails himself periodically with a knotted rope in order to purify himself. Silas is following orders from "The Teacher", who is helping preserve secrets the church is holding.
As soon as Neveu and Langdon escape from Captain Fache's gaze, they are pursued by the DCPJ. The two are now off and running from the authorities, as well as trying to piece-together a series of cryptic clues that reveal long-hidden secrets by the Catholic Church. At the same time members of the Opus Dei group are plotting to keep secrets in the dark, and seeking to prevent the foundations of the church from being shattered beyond all hope.
The Da Vinci Code is a fast-moving mystery that includes lots of religious, cultural, and historical references. The main theme involves the central claims of the Christian church and whether a secret society has been covering-up some essential truths about Jesus' life and relationships.
While the book is fiction, it is not always apparent where the line between long-standing truths and fiction has been drawn by the author. Therein lays the controversy of The Da Vinci Code, as some will see heresy and others see the book as simply as thrilling novel set with a religious theme.
I thought the plot in The Da Vinci Code was pretty well done. There is lots of tension, action, and plenty of "guessing games" involving art and historical documents that kept me involved in the book. I don't accept the central premise of the novel though, so from that perspective I think the author is playing on anti-Catholic sentiments, which detracted from my enjoyment of the book. In some cases the author is particularly clumsy, such as the following:
I can only imagine the terror the Church wielded over your grandfather these past years, threatening to kill you if he dared release the Sangreal Secret, threatening to finish the job they started [p. 408]
I wish that Brown had invested more time in the character development in The Da Vinci Code. He provides some basic background on each person, and also fills-in some more details along the way. However, the characters remain pretty one-dimensional. As a reader I had a hard time developing much empathy for anyone in the book.
The main character Robert Langdon seems like a nice, level-headed guy. And Sophie is intelligent, attractive, and has quite an impressive blood-line. However, the characters that were connected to the Catholic Church or the secret societies are all caricatures with impure motives.
Two aspects of Brown's writing grated on me in The Da Vinci Code. One is a frequent use of mini "cliff-hangers" and the end of most chapters. The other is that an event would occur and then the characters would later spell-out exactly what happened, thus repeating some of the same actions that had been written earlier. I think it's OK to do this sometimes, but Brown relies on this method of story telling too much.
Overall I though The Da Vinci Code was a decent mystery. I think the book is so popular because it is easy to read, has a clear plot, and appeals to a wide range of readers. However, the heavy-handed critique of the Catholic Church took away from the book's overall likeability for me. I still recommend reading The Da Vinci Code though because I enjoyed following the characters' journey. Also I think that the book could nudge readers into sorting out the facts and the fiction contained within The Da Vinci Code's pages.
© trailhound. 2006.
*April 5, 2006 AP Article by Hillel Italie.
Da Vinchi Code
De Vinchi Code
The Da Vinchi Code