originally posted elsewhere: January 6, 2006
tl;dr: A hard-to-put-down, thrilling read, for those who enjoy puzzles...
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is no literary masterpiece, but it is a great read. I have to give Dan Brown credit: he assembled all the pieces necessary to create a multimillion selling blockbuster.
He starts with one of the great mysteries of the past 2000 years, the legend of the Holy Grail. To this he adds one of the most passionate issues of all time: the origin and story of Jesus Christ, a subject over which wars have been fought and religious schisms created. Dan Brown then posits some new, controversial theories on this topic, which have a certain appeal to elements of our ever more secular society. To continue to appeal to his primarily secular audience, he brings in some historical scientific figures, especially Leonardo da Vinci, to highlight the conflict between science and religion over the centuries. He then stirs in all the typical ingredients of a modern thriller: multiple murders, several conspiracies, chase scenes, corrupt and incompetent police, high tech toys, and a few mysterious, powerful figures. Finally, to top it all off, Brown wraps the whole story into multiple Will Shortz-caliber puzzles. It is an absolutely brilliant assemblage of pieces, assuming Brown's goal was to create a bestselling thriller, which it almost certainly was.
I felt as though I had to read it, because it is the one non-Harry Potter book in the past few years that a good fraction of the American adult population has read. It is a fairly quick read, and once I got a little more than halfway through, I did literally stay up into the wee hours in order to see how it ended. So yes, I couldn't put it down.
If you take it as a thriller, the book has few flaws. The action starts immediately, and there is little character development, but supposedly the hero Robert Langdon has already been introduced in a preceding book, Angels & Demons. There are hints of attraction between Langdon and Sophie Neveu, but Brown doesn't explore this at any length (Langdon is definitely not James Bond in this respect).
If you try to take The Da Vinci Code as more than a thriller, especially if you try to take its theories as truth, then you will encounter difficulties. Brown includes many historical facts, and apparently accurate descriptions of places and objects, but a little searching on the Internet will surface the issues with some of the key elements of his theories, especially the Priory of Sion. So, while Brown may not have succeeded in overthrowing 2000 years of Christianity, he has certainly produced a great thriller and made himself a lot of money in the process.