It’s easy to see why The Da Vinci Code has become so popular. As one of the characters in the book says, “Everyone loves a conspiracy.” This one, involving a secretive Church organization trying to steal the Holy Grail from an ancient society that has been protecting its whereabouts for centuries, taps into a universal suspicion of authority. Cleverly, though, it keeps the paranoia focused on a small goal–the Grail itself–and doesn’t try to draw other fringe theories into its web. It’s paced extremely well, with new plot twists and revelations jumping at you in nearly every chapter. Many of the revelations tie in with pieces of art that almost everyone is familiar with (Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the Last Supper, for example), which piques your interest by making you doubt your own memories of those things. The puzzles and cyphers presented to the hero and heroine are tricky, but not so arcance that they disappear into boring abstraction. It’s a cracking page-turner.
However… The characters are paper-thin; the identity of the hidden mastermind is painfully obvious; and the amount of background detail that has to be filled in (sometimes in preachy infodump asides to the reader, sometimes in “as you know, Bob” style dialogues) is enormous. Brown does his best to keep it all simple and interesting, but all the lecturing gets tiresome rather quickly. Overall, I found it very entertaining, but I don’t think I’m ready to read anything more by him just yet.