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Dan Brown's DaVinci Code a good formula thriller

by Robin Hansson, staff writer


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 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 and magazines.

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 Point.

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 will disappoint.


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