Breaking the code

The publishing hit of the summer wasn’t written by J. K. Rowling or a certain well-compensated senator from New York. That distinction belongs to Dan Brown, the previously unknown author of The DaVinci Code, a fast-paced thriller set amid the museums and cathedrals of Europe. The book is that rarest of birds: a critical and commercial success. New York Times book critic Janet Maslin called it “an exhilarating brainy thriller” and at one point this summer, it was on top of every bestseller list in the country.

Yet it’s a strange sort of hit. Consider these reviews from readers. “Completely turned my opinion of the Bible and the Catholic Church upside down,” wrote one. “This is one of the best books (if not the best book) I’ve ever read,” added another. “Appropriately, there are many who would remind me that it’s the second best book, after the Bible. Well, The DaVinci Code is, in many ways, a further exploration of the Bible.”

Some plot summary: The book begins with the murder of a curator at the Louvre. A Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon is called in to interpret the clues left by the dying man. Before long, Langdon is fleeing the police with a female cryptologist, on the trail of a mystery involving Leonardo DaVinci, an ancient secret society, Opus Dei, and (you guessed it) the Holy Grail.

Spoiler alert: the book’s big secret is that the Holy Grail isn’t a cup, but a code, of...

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About the Author

Maurice Timothy Reidy is a former associate editor of Commonweal.