The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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This thriller, much like the genre-making book, Name of the Rose, is based on certain obscure but documented facts of history. One is the existence of a secret society called the Priory of Sion established in 1099. Its existence was confirmed after the discovery of a cache of documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Newton, Botticelli, Leornado da Vinci were amongst the select members of this society. Second is the operation of the Vatican prelature, Opus Dei, known for some of its shady activities. And third, the author’s own boast that the descriptions of art work and architecture are completely accurate.

The last point is important since the first murder takes place within the Louvre, and the reader is given a detailed guided tour of the section of the museum known as the Grand Gallery. Also, the unravelling of the mystery is closely linked with a particular interpretation of three of da Vinci’s famous paintings, the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and Madonna on the Rocks.

The renowned curator, Jacques Saunière, was found brutally murdered inside the Louvre. Around him were strewn a bewildering array of codes which are clues to finding the murderer. There is also the injunction written out on the floor by Saunière before his death, to find Robert Langdon.

Robert Langdon is the professor of religious symbology in Harvard and is in Paris for a lecture. It so happens that on the evening of Saunière’s death he had an appointment with Langdon which did not take place. Langdon is the prime suspect for the crime.

Langdon escapes the police with the help of a gifted cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, who is also Saunière’s estranged granddaughter. Decoding Saunière’s clues, Langdon and Neveu discover that the curator was one of the four who, as members of the Priory of Sion, knew the secret of the Holy Grail. Before his death, he was trying to impart this knowledge to his granddaughter through a series of elaborate and arcane clues. He also knew from the work of Langdon that he was the only person who could help her to decipher the clues.

The clues lead to a bewildering chase which ends in Scotland via London. Langdon and Neveu soon realize that they are up against the powerful force of Opus Dei and of a man (codenamed The Teacher) who would stop at nothing to get his hands on the secret of the Holy Grail.

Mention has been made of a reading of Leonardo’s paintings which serve to unravel the mystery. Here is a sample of the startling interpretations that Dan Brown offers, and one can easily check the details. “The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and [Mary] Magdalene were pair. Notice that Jesus and Magdalene are clothed as mirror images of one another.’’ Thus the figure next to Jesus in the great fresco is made out to be a woman.

Such provocative observations and the richness of fascinating details about renowned art works and buildings add to the lure of the gripping narrative. There is no way one can put this book down. Brown also avoids the all-too-predictable ploy of making Langdon and Neveu into a romantic pair. They part in Scotland as friends with the hint that the best is yet to be.

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