The Dan Brown Code
IN 2005, THE BRITISH AUTHORS of a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Brown’s publisher, claiming that the key revelation of The Da Vinci Code—that Jesus fathered a child with Mary Magdalene—had been lifted from their work. The case in London’s High Court revolved around Brown’s research methods and when exactly he had read Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
Brown’s publisher ultimately won the case—the judge ruled that a fiction writer can’t be told what he could borrow from a book billed as nonfiction, as Holy Blood was. And yet the judge wrote that Brown was not the "deep and thorough researcher" he made himself out to be in the media; that person was his wife. She read most of the reference material and gave Brown summaries that he would weave into his story. "Mr. Brown knew very little about how the historical background was researched," the judge wrote. "He in my view simply accepted Blythe Brown’s research material."
During the trial, Stan Planton, the longtime Brown researcher, got a barrage of calls from reporters curious about Brown’s methods. He told one that Blythe was "the quiet power behind the throne." The off-script comments distressed Brown’s camp. "Stan heard from the handlers," said Jim Barrington. "They said, ‘Hey, you can’t talk about that stuff.’"
For Brown, the court ordeal and the airing of his work habits stung. "That lawsuit really kicked a hole in him, I think," said Barrington. "Dan started shutting down."
Friends who had once exchanged a dozen e-mails a day with the author now got replies from personal assistants whose signature lines read "The Office of Dan Brown." Ron Wallace, the mail-order music salesman, sent Brown a note of congratulations, along with a $5 commission check for the sales of his last one or two copies of the Angels & Demons CD. He asked Brown to send more copies. The businesslike reply said Brown wasn’t making any more. Wallace never heard from him again—though Brown did cash the $5 check.
IN DECEMBER 2003, BROWN HELD a charity book signing at the bookstore beneath his old office in Exeter. It had been nine months since he had published The Da Vinci Code, and he was planning to spend the next 14 months wrapping up what would ultimately become The Lost Symbol. Over the subsequent six years, Brown would rarely resurface.
Originally slated for a 2005 release, The Lost Symbol has been pushed back several times under mysterious circumstances. "We call it life," Brown’s publicist told Storrs by way of official explanation. "Dan went from being a mid-list writer to a superstar in the literary world." But there were rumors as well: The London lawsuit forced him into conducting his research much more carefully. The release of the 2007 movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets—which, like Brown’s book, is set in Washington, DC, and involves the Freemasons—stole his creative thunder and prompted major rewrites. ("That has the ring of Dan Brown lore to me," Brown’s publicist said.)
The delays have only heightened the demand for Brown’s next installment. It will have a first printing of 5 million copies, one of the largest ever for a novel. Today, Masons are as nervous as Catholics once were about the unique power of Brown’s characterizations, and the tendency of his readers to accept them as fact. Some Masons are already forming attacks that address his penchant for secrecy. "When The Da Vinci Code came out, Dan Brown was the underdog attacking the church," says Mark Tabbert, an executive at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, a likely setting for The Lost Symbol. "What little I know about Dan Brown is that he had a desire to be famous, and you have to be careful what you wish for. Like a lot of authors, he thought he could write a book and keep himself hidden. He’s always been very coy about whether the fact of what he has written is true. If he had come out boldly and said everything is a fiction, that would have defused some things."