So, would you follow an investigation through to its conclusion if it became gradually more apparent that everybody who had previously followed the same path had vanished, or changed so drastically that they no longer seemed to be the same person? This is Robert Langdon's dilemma.
The Da Vinci Code is a conceptual, existential, conspiracy thriller.
A student brings it to Langdon's attention that several of Da Vinci's works seem to have hidden symbols in them, concealed in a variety of fashions, whether simply visually or through more cunning methods. This is nothing new to Langdon, however the student also demonstrates how these symbols appear to relate to a new encryption technique developed (apparently) only the year before.
Could Da Vinci have left a message for the future, knowing that in all probability a more advanced civilisation would increase its manipulation of information (its need to manipulate information) to the point where they could decipher it?
Having posted hints at this idea on her blog, the young student is murdered. Langdon is framed as both having an affair with her, and for her murder.
From here on in the book becomes a frantic race for Langdon to both clear his name and crack the code. As he proceeds down this path he uncovers evidence that others have been there before him, with similar theories. No one ever published a conclusion though, either way.
Langdon begins to feel as if he is being led as well as pushed. Behind everything seems to be the shadowy organisation known as the illuminati, and their master, rumoured to be Da Vinci himself. But how can he still be alive?
As Langdon unravels more and more of Da Vinci's code he finds thoughts coming to him unbidden. Knowledge of more of the code than he has discovered, and more of the key. He begins thinking in different ways, becoming more and more obsessive over the puzzle to the point that clearing his name takes second place. Something is driving him to reach the final conclusion, something is taking shape within his mind...
Bit of a spoiler now, so stop reading if you're already excited enough to go grab the book...
The biggest suspension of disbelief this book asks of you is if Da Vinci could really have constructed a memetic virus, delivered in packets and reconstructed in an intelligent mind. Is that concept too advanced for renaissance thought?
I don't think it's so far beyond the realm of disbelief. Were such a thing possible (imagine a tune that you just can't get out of your head, now add in more ideas that you can't stop thinking, now how far is that from a whole person taking root in your head), then why shouldn't one of the greatest, most advanced minds of his time have observed the behaviour of his fellow humans and devised such a thing?
This also raises the question of whether Leornardo has truly found a kind of immortality or just a soulless recreation of his mind, a process, a clone if you like.
The Da Vinci Code is a rare thing, it's an action thriller that makes you really think. Its so well-handled though, think of the matrix: high-concept, simple delivery. I think that's the secret to its popularity; it does make you think, but it doesn't confuse you. It's a great thriller too.
It's only a matter of time, I suppose, before someone makes a movie.