The Da Vinci Code
An enormous bestseller in the US, this was finally published in paperback last week in the UK, and I felt able to pick up a copy for less than four quid in Tesco as a result (I suppose I should write something about supermarkets and their impact on booksales sometime soon, since everyone else is - incidentally, my copy of Road to McCarthy didn't have a price on the back I noticed.).
The first thing to say is that The Da Vinci Code is very readable. Very easily readable. There's nothing taxing in this book at all. The story all takes place over a period of less than 24 hours, primarily in Paris, as lecturer Robert Langdon finds himself embroiled in a tale involving the death of a curator from The Louvre, Leonardo Da Vinci, Opus Dei, The Vatican, The Holy Grail, Knights Templar, secret societies and much more. I certainly couldn't fault the book for entertainment - at nearly 600 pages, I still finished it under two days, but then you never have to re-read anything. If you didn't quite understand something first time around, don't worry, another explanation will be along shortly. Maybe I'm being unfair, but there weren't really the number of twists or turns that a thriller like this should probably have. Everytime our here and heroine got into a scrape, they got out of it within half a page, so there was very little allowance for build up in tension.
Then there's the plot. I'll leave aside the subject matter since that kind of lore is bound to be unrealistic, but the same could be said of SF, so I can buy into it all. I suppose that I'm more bothered by US authors setting novels in Europe and not really understanding things properly. Certainly author Dan Brown has done his research, and I can quite believe that a lot of architectural descriptions are accurate along with much of the historical fact that's injected into the story. I just have problems with systems that work to an unbelievably accurate degree. So Interpol is the most powerful police presence ever, and anyone on the run is likely to be picked up within hours of hitting the wires. The understanding between British and French police is far greater than I've ever realised (Why, I'm certain that French police would be welcomed on British soil without a murmour, instead of leaving the job to the local force).
Then I have a problem with the simplicity of the book - everything's too linear. It's like a computer game in that you can't get to level 2 until you've completed level 1, and there's no question as to how you complete level 1. None of the protagonists are baffled for more than a page or two - they invariably come up with a brilliantly simplistic solution, cuing a new chapter, before we the readers, are let in on it. And given that the book does run to nearly 600 pages, a few more characters wouldn't have gone amiss. By the end, we're left with so few possibilities about who the arch nemesis might be, that it really doesn't come as a surprise.
But my biggest problem was with the writing itself, and more particularly the idioms that were used, and used, and used again. Every time a gun was pointed it seemed to take "deadly aim", and I don't think that in any book anyone should "gun" an engine more than once. Let alone four times.
I expect that I'm being ridiculously harsh about all this, but I was just that bit disappointed with it all. The Broken Sword series of computer games are far better. Indeed has this author played the first Broken Sword?
And of course, I've read a superb book which covers much the same ground - Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Eco's book had far greater breadth, and handled the subject matter much better.
The Da Vinci Code is a beach book really, and to that I extent I can't complain. But since a movie is reckoned to be in the offing, they're going to have to be very careful not to make the film feel completely stupid.