D is for the "Da Vinci Code" effect

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jun 5th 2017, 10:08pm

Since this blog was first published over a year ago we have had "Girl on the Train" to add to the list which I think was very much influenced by "Gone Girl" - I wonder what will be next. Whatever it is I can guarantee that in a few year's time it will be filling the charity shops with used and unwanted copies !!


There are some books which just seem to catch the public imagination and to become part of our popular culture. There are fewer of them than there are films which do the same thing but when it does happen it can become quite an amazing phenomenon.

Examples recently of books which achieved this feat include the Harry Potter series which has been by far the greatest example of books becoming popular culture (although it was helped by the films), “Fifty Shades of Grey” which has certainly been very popular and has triggered discussion of many connected issues, “Gone Girl” which now seems to be the standard by which all newly published psychological thrillers are measured, and “The Da Vinci Code”.

I have read and enjoyed Dan Brown’s thriller and I was not the only one by any means – in fact I have been told that this book is the most commonly found in charity shops. It was a seemingly strange book to catch the public imagination, being a conspiracy theory story with religious themes. It is, however, a fast paced book with plenty of action and the pseudo-history/theology the author includes is just controversial enough to become a talking point.

After “The Da Vinci Code” was published I noticed another phenomenon which I refer to as the Da Vinci Code effect. This determines the number of similar books which are published after a book generates this level of interest and which are similar to it, reference it, or even are a parody. Usually, books which have this level of additional activity tend to be classics as this enables rewriting (because they are out of copyright) – remember the interest shown in “Pride and Prejudice” after the BBC version or the various versions of Sherlock Holmes stories which exist. Modern books which experience the Da Vinci Code effect don’t demonstrate all of this but there are very many, often thinly disguised, copies which flood the market (some of which may be as good as or even better than the original but many of which, sadly, are not).

I developed an interest in books similar to the “Da Vinci Code” after it was published and waded my way through a lot of books with historical artefacts, chases across Europe, information hidden in old manuscripts, and the like. Most of them were implausible and many were badly written but it’s a sub-genre that still exists even if my taste has mostly moved on to other things. If you scout the bookshelves you will see the legacy continues for Harry Potter, “Gone Girl” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” in the same way.

I wonder what book will be next ? What will catch the imagination and result in mass interest – it is difficult to predict from those that have already been successful in this way because they are all so different. Meanwhile the Da Vinci Code effect continues in conspiracy thrillers written by Dan Brown and others.