The Dan Brown Code
Phillips Exter Academy is a staid, ivy-claid that calls to mind a miniature Harvard. Library archivist Edouard Desrochers was not due at his office until after lunch, so Storrs decided to dig around the library for clues.
The Louis Kahn–designed building is the largest high school library in the world, and Storrs took the stairs to the top floor, where he slipped into a room that held books published by notable Exonians such as Gore Vidal and John Irving. In one bookcase, behind glass doors, he found a shelf taken over with Brown’s work. Storrs tried opening the case. It was locked. Luckily, a quick search through the library’s advanced computerized database revealed that most of the titles were available on other floors.
Brown’s first try as an author was a humorous 1995 self-help book called 187 Men to Avoid, which included a prescription to avoid “men who write self-help books for women.” He published the slim title under the pseudonym Danielle Brown, and three years later came out with another humor volume, The Bald Book, under his wife’s name—an early indication of their little-talked-about collaboration that continues today.
By that time, Brown was at work on his first novel, Digital Fortress, which he released in 1998. Pulling it and Brown’s three subsequent books from the shelf, Storrs recalled something the author had written in his affidavit. “In my childhood, I was taught never to write in books…. In fact, when I first became published and people asked me to sign their editions, I felt funny about it.”
As he thumbed through three library copies of The Da Vinci Code autographed by the author, Storrs thought, Well, perhaps that’s a reluctance he’s overcome.
The esteemed archivist is a slight, balding man who knows Brown well enough to have inspired a character of the same name in The Da Vinci Code. He greeted Storrs with a warm handshake and a smile. Yet when Storrs explained that he was there to have a look at the library’s Dan Brown material, a dark look passed across Desrochers’s face.
Storrs would have to talk to Julie Quinn in the school’s communications office, Desrochers said. In fact, he was going to call her right now. In a moment of foreboding, Storrs realized that powerful wheels had just been set in motion.
A year before The Da Vinci Code came out, Brown attended a high school reunion. At one point, he stood up and proudly announced he was now a figure of some renown: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually an author.” The statement suggested to some that Brown already thought of himself as successful, before he’d actually achieved any real success.
By the time of his 25th class reunion in 2007, Brown had become the most popular author in American history. He showed up again, defying the expectations of starstruck classmates. “It’s kind of hard to look at a guy who has sold millions of books and not be like, ‘Wow,'” says classmate Peter Scocimara. “But he was really normal about it.”
Well, there was one thing that didn’t mesh with the image of Brown as a modest guy. Playing on a continuous loop in the auditorium during part of the reunion was a slideshow of Brown’s personal photographs from the set of The Da Vinci Code movie, starring Tom Hanks, which had come out a year earlier. The snapshots of the globetrotting writer said much more than a speech ever could have.
Julie Quinn, Phillips Exeter’s director of communications, met Storrs at the door to her lushly carpeted office. She got right to the point.
“Dan has asked us not to release anything from his time here,” Quinn said, fixing Storrs with a steady gaze.
There was an awkward moment as she and Storrs both seemed to realize the irony of a writer—one whose research had benefited from the help of a librarian at that very school—demanding that library materials related to him be kept hidden. No tapes of speeches. No flipping through novels locked behind fancy glass doors. An uncharitable thought flickered through Storrs’s mind: Were the school’s academic values perhaps compromised by a recent gift of $2.2 million from Brown and his two siblings?
As if reading his mind, Quinn continued. “That’s our policy for all alums—and students, as a matter of fact.”
Of course, most alumni never ask for such things to be sealed. Storrs was beginning to wonder if Dan Brown had something to hide.