THE DA VINCI CODE. By Dan Brown. Doubleday. 454 pages. $24.95
The Da Vinci Code is the most gripping thriller to have come my way in years. It is pegged to an esoteric and questionable story suggested, among other places, in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, published in 1982.
The story raises the proposition that gospels written by church fathers at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century eliminated from Catholicism the feminine goddess so much a part of the world's religious myths. In this way they created a patriarchal, out-of-balance church that has fought the feminine ever since.
Their deed, the story goes, eliminated from the record a Jesus-Mary Magdalene marriage, and turned Mary Magdalene into a prostitute.
She is spirited to France after the crucifixion, and she and her children continued the holy bloodline through the Merovingian kings. One story is that the bloodline is the real grail.
Among the details in this novel are that sacred texts concealed two millennia ago were found and saved by a group that came to be known as the Priory of Sion, which had ties to the Knights Templar crusaders and Freemasons. Some scholars have debunked the Priory as the concoction of 19th century anti-Semitic and anti-Freemason Frenchmen. The various concoctions are a conspiracists' revel.
The Priory, through the ages, was said to have attracted artists and other people who understood symbols, and who hid their truths in codes and puzzles. Leonardo DaVinci, reputed Grand Master of the Priory in his day, was such a man, his philosophy encoded on the Mona Lisa itself.
The DaVinci Code opens with Robert Langdon, an academic symbologist from Harvard who is in Paris to give a talk, being summoned by police to the Louvre. Curator Jacques Sauniere lies dead there on the parquet floor of the Grand Gallery, of a bullet wound to his gut.
He is also buck naked, lying in a straight line with the room's long axis, his arms and legs spread in the snow angel position, one in which he had carefully arranged himself. The pentacle (five-pointed star) he drew on the canvas of his belly reiterated the secret message his position was to convey.
Langdon recognizes that it was inspired by the Da Vinci drawing titled The Vitruvian Man. What can it mean?
The Harvard professor had a meeting scheduled with the curator that evening, one that Sauniere had arranged but failed to show up for. Langdon thought it might have something to do with a draft of his new book, Symbols of the Lost Sacred Feminine.
He knew the curator to be “the premiere goddess iconographer on earth,” a man whose personal passions led him to help the museum amass a huge collection in this area. Sauniere also shared with DaVinci a concern “over the Catholic Church's elimination of the sacred feminine from modern religion.”
The dying Sauniere wrote other codes in his own blood, and one line convinced Captain Bezu Fache that Langdon was the killer. “P.S. Find Robert Langdon,” it read.
Enter Sophie Neveu, an agent with the police department of cryptology. She is a pro in her profession. Codes and puzzles were a significant part of her youth, which was spent with her grandfather, Jacques Sauniere, from whom she is estranged. He called her Princess Sophie. Is she P.S.?
Despite being in the thick of an investigation in a public place, and despite the hidden electronic tracker in Langdon's pocket, the two manage to spirit themselves away and discover that Sauniere was the current Priory Grand Master, that four of his associates were also murdered, and their lives are imperiled. The usual passions prompt the murders: Personal gain, fanatic belief, ideological persuasion, and raw power.
It doesn't matter whether there was a suppressed set of gospels, whether the Magdalene and Jesus had children. Using the possibilities as background, Brown has fashioned a breathtaking, page-turning thriller, a novel that one can assume is fiction down to the ink. He leaves the rest of those who plod the thriller genre in the dust.