Da Vinci Code

The Best Da Vinci Code Imitation?

An essay by Kenny Brechner

    Awards and recognitions, like fresh logs thrown onto a bonfire, are usually welcome. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if recognition is the tree of which flattery is the fruit, then a surfeit of imitation must call for establishment of a new award.

    This brings us to The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. Though itself the subject of a plagiarism suit, The Da Vinci Code has been the object of a breathtaking number of imitations. The award we seek, then, is that for the best imitation of the Da Vinci Code. For our candidates we need look no farther than the current New York Times Best Seller list, where we will find three successful imitations, The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury, The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry, and Labyrinth, by Kate Moss. We will also consider The Secret Supper, by Javier Sierra, a major release that hasn’t had a chance yet to make the list.

    In compiling a list such as this, given the dozens of Da Vinci Code imitations published in the last year, it is inevitable that worthy contenders will be overlooked. To this eventuality we must say, with conviction, ‘oh well.’

    In order to judge the entrants we must first establish the criteria for judging. This requires listing Da Vinci Code elements whose presence we hope to find in our contenders. These are as follows. We should find a secret legacy pertaining to Christ’s ancestry and teachings, involving sacred artifacts, and lost documents. This legacy should be protected by a secret organization, preferably involving the Templars, which is dedicated to preserving, but not revealing, the secret. The secret legacy should provide a dire threat to Orthodoxy, if revealed. Searching for the secret should be a male investigator with a professional background, and a female love interest who is herself a professional, but whose father, now dead, was an important part of preserving the legacy, a role she is only peripherally aware of. Also searching for the secret should be an evil doer who the central pair believe is a helper. The evil doer should almost gain the secret but then die. The pair should become lovers and decide to maintain the secret, after which the book should end with a picturesque epilogue. It is also very important that the mystery unfold from one clue to another with a metronome like precision. Extra points will be given for directly using Da Vinci Code physical plot elements, such as The Last Supper.

    One sees right away that The Templar Legacy is an imitation to be reckoned with, for at the heart of this book "lies a shattering discovery that could rock the civilized world-and, in the wrong hands, bring it to its knees." The shattering discovery does involve a professional woman whose father died from his involvement with the secret order connected to the discovery, and she is paired with a male interrogator/love interest. So far so good. The secret order is actually the Knights of The Templar itself, which had gone underground after its supposed extirpation in the fourteenth century. The order has lost control of the legacy due to its discovery and removal by the Abbe- Berenger Sauniere.

    Here The Templar Legacy strikes gold because Sauniere is the last name of the curator in the Da Vinci Code. Using the same last name for an important character found in The Da Vinci Code is a bold and formidable move. The secret legacy does provide a threat to orthodoxy, one that does bear on Christ’s legacy and teachings, and one whose secrecy the characters agree to maintain in the end. The Templar Legacy succeeds in having some form of most of The Da Vinci Code plot elements. There is plenty of decoding of arcane hints, for example it is said of the letters and symbols on a seventeenth century tombstone, "It’s a puzzle, monsieur. One that has no easy solution." Some of the elements are slightly altered however. The evil doer competing for the legacy is recognized as evil though out, the female protagonist has a son important to the story, and there is no epilogue, nor even definitive proof that the two lead characters have become lovers, though it is implied.

    Still, The Templar Legacy sets a daunting standard of imitation, a standard which neither Labyrinth, nor The Secret Supper, can stand up to. Labyrinth, to be fair does feature a centuries old secret involving an ancient text. The text, whose message and nature pose a potent threat to Orthodoxy, is protected by a sacrifice made by an ancestor of the female lead in the story, whose quest it is to both unravel and protect the ancient secret. The problem with Labyrinth is that it wants to be purchased by Da Vinci Code readers, but it doesn’t really want to be The Da Vinci Code. This is not because its author Kate Mosse wants this to be a book where "women have the swords," nor that there are no Templars in the book, but rather because Labyrinth is long and overwritten, wallowing in, rather than racing though its mystery.

    In Labyrinth Mosse, a cofounder and honorary director of the Orange Prize for Fiction, demonstrates that she has a much greater gift for recognizing than for writing fiction. Drops of blood can’t just fall, they must "explode like a firework in the sky on Guy Fawkes night." Medieval characters are required to have modern realizations. "The chansons a gestes she had loved so much in her childhood had lied. There was no nobility in war. Only Suffering." Labyrinth then is a version of The Da Vinci Code, but a version stretched out and filled up with the sentiment of another genre altogether, the big, overdone, meaningful novel.

    It must be said that Javier Sierra’s The Secret Supper, despite containing a dire, hidden secret, which would overturn orthodoxy if revealed, is competing for a different prize altogether than our other three books. This may be because it is a translation of an internationally successful book, first published in Spanish in 2004, one year after The Da Vinci Code. The connection between the books isn’t as clear as our other candidates. Nonetheless, recognizing that The Secret Supper elaborates greatly on one element of the Da Vinci Code, the mystery embedded by Da Vinci in his painting, The Last Supper, Sierra’s book clearly deserves an award for Best Supporting Imitation, rather than anything more general.

    Neither Labyrinth, nor The Secret Supper, then, provide a real challenge to The Templar Legacy. In The Last Templar, however, The Templar Legacy has met its match. The Last Templar contains every judging element we have identified from The Da Vinci Code. It gets an extra bonus for starting out in the same setting as The Da Vinci Code, an art museum, and immediately involving a decoding device. The Last Templar features a male investigator paired with a female professional whose deceased father was important to the secret. It has regularly dispersed clues solved with a metronome like precision. Its evil doer appears to be a helper, and ultimately lays hand on the secret text only to die. The two lovers choose to keep it all a secret at the end, saving orthodoxy from being turned on its head. A picturesque epilogue follows.

    Our other contestants may have a bit more verve, or depth, or in the case of the Labyrinth, words, but for sheer imitation, for including every important plot element, and not altering the nature of any of them, The Last Templar has come in first in our contest.