While in Paris for a conference Robert Langdon, the famed expert on symbology, becomes the prime suspect in the investigation into the death of the curator of Louvre. With the help of Sophie Neveu, the curator's estranged grand-daughter, Langdon must uncover the mystery of the Holy Grail and find the killer terrorizing an ancient secret society.
I remember a time when this book was the absolute talk of the town and I wondered what was so revolutionary about it that it had people split into camps either rejecting or embracing its ideas. I haven't even heard of Dan Brown back then and only became interested enough in his work to wishlist the book on PaperBackSwap after watching the movie by the same name with Tom Hanks playing Robert Langdon. When it arrived it was no mere mass market paperback. It was an illustrated special edition hardcover with glossy pages and color pictures of the things and places described in the book. It was fascinating. It was like reading a history book that actually did something other than bore me to the point of stupidity. I blew through the thick volume in no time at all, immediately wishlisted the other books by Dan Brown and went back to savor the illustrations one more time - I have to admit, they added to the experience.
One thing about Brown's Langdon and the rest is that they are likable. Even the villains are sympathetic because they are misguided in one way or another but for the most part they are motivated by faith or thirst for knowledge as opposed to greed or prestige. I actually felt sorry for Silas, the albino priest, because he really believed that he was doing God's work and suffered for it.
What wasn't very apparent when I first read the book but is more so now that I've read two more by Brown is that strong female leads are a staple in his novels. While Langdon is the fount of knowledge who comes up with ideas as for the location of the subject of their search and can gain access to otherwise off-limit places because of his renown it is the women who protect the professor and figure out the logistics of getting him out of jams. Sophie Neveu is no exception and it was great fun reading about a woman with such an unusual profession and life.
Pacing in this book is characteristic of other Brown's work - Langdon and Neveu are always on the go in their mad race against time and the police and that's a lot of action even for a hefty volume such as this. It sucks you in and I haven't met a person yet who hasn't been reading faster than usual to get to the bottom of the mystery, impatient to find the characters at their destination. Because of this there isn't too much character development but we do get a sense of who these people are when the events happen, what motivates them and what their backgrounds are, which is more than adequate for an action thriller.
The only thing that slowed down the story were the explanations connecting the pieces of the puzzle into one whole. While necessary, they sometimes went on for too long and kept me from finding out the location of the Holy Grail and I was really tempted to skip over those passages but read on because I didn't want to miss anything important.
As far as the controversial subject goes I really didn't see what all the fuss is about. Yes, it is a very non-traditional take on Jesus and his disciples and it is very convincingly written but this is a novel and anyone who starts taking it particularly close to heart should remember that a novel is by definition fiction, make-believe if you will, and has no claim on historical accuracy. Its purpose is entertainment and here it is masterfully fulfilled. Thumbs up to Dan Brown for writing a book I couldn't put down.