Welcome to The Best Bad Books, celebrating 15 years of The Da Vinci Code

Many years ago I picked up a book called Holy Blood and Holy Grail. It began in a small French village named Rennes le Chateau and began with a priest’s tomb and mysterious Latin inscription.

TERRIBILIS ESTE LOCUS ISTE

This place is terrible.

I think I was about twelve at the time, and like most children I enjoyed a treasure hunt. I eagerly hoovered up the book and probably believed most of it at the time, but like most childhood diversions it faded from memory as I entered the awful hormonal maelstrom of puberty.

For many years I didn’t give the book another thought, other than when high school theology or history classes occasionally referred to things that rang bells – Cathars, Transubstantiation, the Gospels that didn’t make the cut when the church was assembling the Bible as we know it today. And a lot of it made me smile, because in the light of all this new information I realised that Holy Blood and Holy Grail was nothing more than an enjoyable heap of hooey.

Fast forward another few years and I got talking to a friend of a friend at a party. He started breathlessly describing this book about the bloodline of Christ and the cover up perpetrated by the Catholic Church about Jesus’s true relationship with Mary Magdalene. I think I mentioned the Priory of Sion and the Merovingnan kings, he nodded even more frantically and I said something like “Yeah, Holy Blood and Holy Grail, right?”

“No,” he said. “The Da Vinci Code.”

Huh? That kind of got my attention, because as a writer I’m always morbidly fascinated when someone’s about to get sued for plagiarism. The more this acquaintance – coincidentally also named Dan – told me about this book, the more convinced I became that this was probably going to end in a lawsuit. It sounded like this Dan Brown guy had basically bought a copy of Holy Blood and Holy Grail in a second hand bookshop somewhere and cheerfully helped himself to everything that wasn’t nailed down or on fire.

Sure enough there was a lawsuit, which Dan Brown won on the grounds that his book was sold as fiction while the plaintiff’s was marketed as fact, but I thought I’d check this out for myself.

So, like most people on the planet at the time, I ended up owning a copy of The Da Vinci Code. I read it, and it was terrible.

It was really, really bad. I mean, regardless of my views on the verdict, it was shit anyway. It was full of badly drawn characters, unconvincing dialogue and endless tour-guide infodumps that interrupted the flow of the action. Couple that with a completely charmless main character and a grasp of Church history that’s about as deep as a kiddie pool in a drought, and you’ve got yourself a turd.

The Da Vinci Code was probably the first genuinely bad bestseller I’d ever read, and at the time I was outraged by its awfulness. I’m a lot older now, and I’ve read even worse bestsellers (You know who you are, Fifty Shades of Grey) and over time I think I almost developed a fond nostalgia for The Da Vinci Code’s badness. I remember it being fabulously silly and strangely entertaining because of it, so when I was clearing out a bookshelf and came across my old copy I glanced inside.

I’d written notes in the margins here and there. Most of them had the word BULLSHIT in them. On the flyleaf I had written these words.

Fact: This book is so bad that reading it will cause your brain to resemble in size, weight, shape, and perhaps even taste, a cheesy Quaver.

This information is accurate, despite being independently verified by absolutely nobody.

I feel like it would be churlish to deny my younger self the pleasure of turning my now decrepit brain into snack food, so why not? Why not read this thing? Why not have some fun with it?

Let’s just bring this thing full circle, back to the strange thrill I felt as a child when I first read those words – TERRIBILIS ESTE LOCUS ISTE. Let’s revisit the whole mad, nonsensical treasure hunt all over again, but this time filtered through the fiction of a man who gets paid ridiculous sums of money for repeatedly wiping his bum on the definition of literature. It’s probably going to be stupid, it’s hopefully going to be funny and it’s definitely going to take a while. Brace yourself. This is The Da Vinci Code.

TERRIBLIS ESTE LIBRUM ISTE

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