Click here to read reviewer Bonnie Toews' take on The Da Vinci Code.
The Da Vinci Code is, in a manner of speaking, two books in one. The first is a very good suspense thriller. Author Dan Brown must either play or at least be aware of computer games; the plot has a computer game feel to it. The protagonists are dropped almost immediately into a situation of peril and must extricate themselves by solving a series of puzzles, with one puzzle's solution granting the privilege of looking at another puzzle, which also requires a solution.
There are two protagonists, Robert Landon and Sophie Neveu -- Robert an expert on religious symbology and a Harvard professor, and Sophie a cryptologist and Parisian police agent. Both have skill sets, not by accident, which allow for great success at solving puzzles -- at least the type of puzzles presented here.
The opening chapter is a grabber. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre museum, is shot in the stomach by an albino monk named Silas and left to bleed slowly to death. Jacques Sauniere is, as chance and the author would have it, the grandfather of Sophie Neveu.
The time it takes Jacques to die is time enough for him to set up the first of the puzzles to be solved. His body is found naked, arms and legs splayed, with writings (written by Jacques in his own blood) which are meant to be secret coded messages to his granddaughter, Sophie. Robert Langdon is drawn into this murder (and its startling aftermath) as the Inspector on the case, Bezu Faches, believes he is the killer. Sophie, knowing Robert is innocent, helps him escape from the Musee du Louvre, and the chase (and puzzle solving) is on.
The plot turns are suspenseful, the mysteries and their solutions clever, even ingenious in some cases. This is a true nail-biter. The problem is with the "second" book incorporated into this first rate thriller. The plot here revolves around an intellectual belief that Jesus (yes, the Christian Jesus) had a love affair and/or was married to Mary Magdalene, who was in fact pregnant with Jesus's child at the time of the crucifixion -- a fact supposedly known by the Church and covered up. The "thing" everyone is being chased and killed for, is the secret of the location of the holy grail, a location known to many who belonged to a secret society throughout history, including Leonardo Da Vinci. No, the holy grail is not, under this theory, the cup Jesus drank wine from during the Last Supper, but rather a metaphor for Mary Magdalene. She is the "cup" that held Jesus's child: she is the true holy grail.
Da Vinci (and many others in history, including Walt Disney) have made allusions in their works to "the truth" of the grail. Da Vinci "knew" the truth. How do we know? Dan Brown has a "grail expert" named Teabing tell us. See Saint Peter in Da Vinci's great work "The Last Supper?" That is "clearly" not a man, but a woman. Not only a woman, but it "must be" Mary Magdalene!
Sure, who else? Another of the author's expert characters says:
"Finally," Teabing said [still in reference to Da Vinci's "The Last Supper"], "if you view Jesus and Mary Magdalene [formerly Saint Peter] as compositional elements rather than as people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you." He paused. "A letter of the alphabet."What does this compositional M mean? Does it stand for the other Mary (Jesus's mother)? No, does it stand for "Master of the Arts," which Da Vinci no doubt believed himself to be? Did Da Vinci divine the future, see Walt Disney's work, and create a great M as tribute to Mickey Mouse?
Sophie saw it at once...an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.
Or is this M merely a compositional element in a great work of art? Anyone who has taken art history and art theory in college knows that X's and W's and, yes, M's are common compositional techniques to balance a painting. But this particular M must mean only one thing as far as Teabing is concerned. It means Mary Magdalene gave birth to Jesus's child and Da Vinci knew it!
This kind of conclusion is only possible when someone already has a conclusion and is looking to invent reasons to support it. Not very scientific, nor very logical. It is the intellectual equivalent of beer drinkers believing they were picked up by aliens and taken for a ride in a spaceship. The author might as well have had everyone running around searching for the secret location of a box of alien bones, proof of visitors from outer space.
And all of this "theory" is presented in a pedantic tone which slows down the action, although the author does do a good job of not letting it slow it down too much. So, four stars for the "action/suspense/puzzle plot" and one star for the silly theory that is the reason why everyone is killing everyone. That rounds out to about 2 1/2 stars.