After the 56th printing of The Da Vinci Code
and more than seven million copies sold, author Dan Brown has
become a household name among America’s readers. If you
are among those who are still to discover Brown’s four
novels, you might wonder why all of them, in early 2004, held
spots on the New York Times bestseller list.
What sets Brown’s writing apart from others? Besides an
enormous, well-used vocabulary and extensive research, one possible
answer is to be found in the beginning of every Brown book: the
author’s note. Here, Brown states things such as: “All
descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret
rituals are accurate,” or, “All technologies described
in this novel exist.” The Dan Brown code of successful
writing is: Be authentic. Whatever he describes, readers can
either go visit it, or double check it in standard references
or online Web sites.
The Da Vinci Code is about a Harvard symbologist
named Robert Langdon, who is in Paris to lecture on symbolism.
He is contacted by the French police because the curator of
the Louvre, the French national museum whom he was supposed
to meet the following day, was found dead surrounded by cryptic
clues. When the police accuse him of murder, Langdon teams
up with the deceased’s beautiful granddaughter, a police
cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, to find out who is behind the murder.
The two follow a trail of clues that leads them on a scholarly
treasure hunt through Europe. Langdon uncovers deadly assassins,
secret societies, and a mystery of biblical magnitude.
Brown’s unique eye for historical details has received
much critical attention. As of now, eight books about the level
of truth in The Da Vinci Code are listed on Amazon.com. More
are likely to come. Most of these books are written by right-wing
Christians who feel that Brown’s critique of Christianity
is unfair or just wrong. For example, one issue frequently discussed
is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. In The
Da Vinci Code, Brown states that the person sitting on Jesus’ right
is Mary Magdalene. Fact or fiction? That’s up to you to
decide, but think about it. Brown was using the most recent scholarship
about The Last Supper, scholarship echoed in other recent novels
According to Publishers Weekly’s sales figures, curiosity
about Brown’s other novels came about after the first printing
of The Da Vinci Code in 2003, when sales of Brown’s other
three novels jumped from mediocre to bestseller. Angels & Demons,
for instance, jumped from a 140,000 copies to a whopping 4,260,000.
The same trend can be seen for both Digital Fortress and Deception
As Dan Brown’s books continue to top the charts, critics
continue to pass judgment on whether his novels are masterpieces
or hoaxes. What seems to bother these critics the most are his
characterization of the villain and his plots. In Digital Fortress,
Deception Point, and The Da Vinci Code, the critics may be correct.
Brown’s villains are carbon copies of each other. The bad
guy is, in one way or another, a crippled outcast assassin controlled
by an influential evil genius looking to gain power. Even though
Brown’s villains are skillfully incorporated in the storyline,
a concept like this will only work for a short period and becomes
dull and predictable after one reads another of his books.
Linked to the repetitive ways the villain is portrayed, is
the plot. Brown’s plots follow the usual good guy versus bad
guy concept, which seldom goes beyond the ordinary in terms of
the outline. The exception is Angels & Demons. In this novel,
Brown is more complex and the storyline and characterization
more intricate. His villain seems to have a mind of his own and
is easier to identify with. The plot is also more vivid. Even
though most of us have never been to the Vatican, where the book
takes place, the novel makes us feel like we’ve been there.
Does this criticism mean that you shouldn’t read his novel?
Quite the contrary. Brown’s ways of noticing everyday occurrences
from a historical perspective is unique and make readers focus
on the environment, as opposed to just their plots and characters.
Read his novels, just don’t read them all at once. And
end your Brown experience with Angels & Demons, or the others