Culture > Books

Best-Selling Books


Issue: "One nation under God," June 26, 2004

1. DaVinci Code Author: Dan Brown Plot: A curator at the Louvre is murdered, but before he dies leaves clues that send his granddaughter (a police cryptologist) and his colleague (a Harvard professor) on a search for the killer. Gist: This goddess-worshipping conspiracy tale is still No. 1 with its weird theories of biblical interpretation and a profane premise: that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a daughter. 2. Rule of Four Authors: Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason Plot: Two students unlock the secrets of the Hypnerotomachia, a Renaissance manuscript that has bewitched scholars for centuries, and unleash a killer. Gist: While critics compare it to The DaVinci Code, The Rule of Four is better written and doesn't require the reader to accept DaVinci's Gnostic conspiracy. The reader is thrust into an academic world where books are more important than people. The narrator is torn between solving the mysteries of the manuscript and meeting the demands of a budding (sexual) relationship. 3. Five People You Meet . . . Author: Mitch Albom Plot: An old man dies and in heaven meets five people whose lives were intertwined with his. Gist: The bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie has a knack for description, but his fable about what happens after death flows poorly and drips with clichés. Aphorisms like "in heaven you get to make sense of your yesterdays" compete with Jonathan Livingston Seagull's wisdom. 4. Angels and Demons Author: Dan Brown Plot: A physicist is murdered, the word Illuminati is carved on his chest, and Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is on the killer's trail. Gist: This book, which is on both the hardback and paperback bestseller lists, was actually published before The DaVinci Code. It was recently republished in hardback in order to take advantage of Dan Brown's fame. It's another fast-paced thriller, this time pitting science against the Catholic Church. Those who like his melding of murder mystery, secret codes, and conspiracies will find plenty to like here. 5. Hidden Prey Author: John Sandford Plot: A murdered Russian's body is found in Duluth, Minn. When Russia sends an investigator, Lucas Davenport is assigned to help her. Gist: The reader knows from the beginning the killer's identity. But Sandford makes interesting Davenport's search to put together the puzzle. He discovers an underground ring of Soviet-era Communists (long-forgotten by the Russians) in a small Northern Minnesota town. The book's foul language will bother some who would otherwise enjoy Sandford's tight, descriptive writing. In the spotlight The premise behind The Jane Austen Book Club (Putnam, 2004) by Karen Joy Fowler is that Jane Austen is an author who appeals to a wide variety of readers who see her through their own lens. The plot involves a six-member book group-five women and one man-devoted to reading only Jane Austen. The book alternates between accounts of their meetings and revelations about their lives. Sometimes a detail or story has a parallel in one of Austen's novels, but what's missing is any appreciation of Austen's moral universe. The book club members-dealing with divorce, adulterous thoughts, lesbian relationships-seem utterly modern. One wonders what Austen would make of them. Other Austen aficionados may prefer Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries. Jane Austen solves mysteries that require insight into human nature to resolve. The sixth book in the series is typical. The author fills the book with historical detail and writes in a regency style that can't match Austen's, but tries.

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