The Da Vinci Clones
THE SECRET SUPPER
By Javier Sierra. Translated from the Spanish by Alberto Manguel
Atria. 329 pp. $25.95
THE PRIEST'S MADONNA
By Amy Hassinger
Putnam. 319 pp. $24.95
What should we call a large group of conspiracy theorists? A British reviewer wryly suggests "a connivance." There are certainly enough writers in pursuit of Mary Magdalene's supposed French descendants to make up a large connivance. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 40 million hardcover copies in 44 languages, and conspiracy mavens will be hard-put to imagine it is coincidence that two related novels are appearing in the same season that finally sees the paperback publication of The Da Vinci Code and the premiere of a movie version. So the billion-dollar question here is whether or not these two candidates for the brotherhood of connivers will challenge Brown, who sits securely on a mile-high stack of bestsellers.
The quick answer is "no." The Priest's Madonna , written by Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate Amy Hassinger, stands shyly in the clubhouse doorway, unlikely to be admitted. Javier Sierra's The Secret Supper , with more than 300,000 sold in Spain already, mounts a more serious challenge, but it lacks the contemporary pizzazz and love interest.
Explanations for why The Da Vinci Code has become the holy grail of publishing are legion, but essentially Brown brings to life a titillating alternative version of the underpinnings of Christianity. His fast-moving thriller invites readers to feel smart, enlightened and perhaps vindicated in their feelings that the established Church teeters on the boundaries of myth and greed. But the fundamental difference between The Da Vinci Code and The Secret Supper is that Robert Langdon, Brown's protagonist, lives very much in the 21st century. Sierra's narrative, on the other hand, plays out its intrigues against a background of 15th-century Milan: the powerful Sforza family, their patronage of the artistic and military genius Leonardo da Vinci and the despotic, sometimes violent rule of the Catholic Church.