The Da Vinci Code 48-49: Worst. Secret. Society. Ever.

Last time on The Da Vinci Code, Bob and Sophie found a cryptex, which is kind of like a stone bicycle lock full of vinegar and papyrus. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but Dan Brown actually invented the cryptex all on his own like a big boy writer, so we may as well applaud. And there was something about hanging roses. And dong. I don’t really remember. Look, just read the previous post; it’s probably easier than listening to my garbled understanding of this madness.

Chapter Forty-Eight

Guess what the cryptex is? Go on. Have a guess.

It’s the keystone. Remember the keystone, the clef de voute? It’s an encoded stone that lies beneath the sign of the Rose, apparently. He’s just making this up as he goes along, isn’t he?

Clef de voute literally translates as ‘key to the vault’, but not a bank vault, because Bob is about to explain things to us (help). You see, it’s actually the key to a vault as in a vaulted ceiling. Sophie is dubious.

“But vaulted ceilings don’t have keys.”
“Actually they do. Every stone archway requires a central, wedge-shaped stone at the top which locks the pieces together, and carries all the weight. This stone is, in an architectural sense, the key to the vault. In English we call it a keystone.”

Thanks Bob. In English we call you ‘insufferable’.

I have no idea why the key to the vault should have anything to do with ceilings but apparently it’s got something to do with the Masonic tradition that associates keystones with secrecy. So this is a secret because some secret society said it was a secret, even though Bob knows about it? I think I’ve reached the point where this book has completely broken my brain.

“The Priory keystone is not my speciality,” Langdon admitted. “My interest in the Holy Grail is primarily symbologic, so I tend to ignore the plethora of lore regarding how to actually find it.”
Sophie’s eyebrows arched. “Find the Holy Grail?”
Langdon gave an uneasy nod, speaking his next words carefully. “Sophie, according to Priory lore, the keystone is an encoded map…a map that reveals the hiding place of the Holy Grail.”

How convenient. I’d complain more about this if I wasn’t so desperate for something to advance the plot. At this point if you handed me a giant marble bicycle lock and said “This is a map that shows the hiding place of the Holy Grail” I’d go along with it, so long as it stopped me from having to listen to Langdon drone on.

The idea that the cryptex had been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci – former Grand Master of the Priory of Sion – shone as as another tantalising indicator that this was indeed the Priory keystone. A former Grand Master’s blueprint…brought to life centuries later by another Priory member. The bond was too palpable to dismiss.

Meh. That’s the trouble with ripping off Holy Blood and Holy Grail, a book that bends and mutilates history, etymology, art history, folklore and theology to suit the purposes of a conspiracy theory that a bunch of drunk French Structuralists came up with because they thought it was funny. (It wasn’t, but that’s Structuralists for you.) The ‘evidence’ is circumstantial at best and hilariously tenuous at worst. By this logic anyone who decided to recreate the designs of Leonardo da Vinci is a possible candidate for having been in the same secret society as him, which would implicate quite a lot of people, including everyone responsible for a recent exhibition at the Science Museum in London.

According to Langdon, historians have been searching for the keystone – because historians search for the Holy Grail in this universe – thinking it was a literal keystone at the centre of an archway somewhere, beneath the sign of the rose. Due to the dirt-common nature of roses as a decorative device, they looked at a lot of churches – and presumably smashed up a lot of floors, Silas-style – before concluding that they couldn’t find it and that they were all probably dumber than rocks.

Which they absolutely were.

“The cryptex can’t be the keystone,” Sophie argued. “It’s not old enough. I’m certain my grandfather made this. It can’t be part of any ancient Grail legend.”
“Actually,” Langdon replied, feeling a tingle of excitement ripple through him. “The keystone is believed to have been created by the Priory sometime in the past couple of decades.”

Bob, I hate to interrupt you while you’re getting the tingles and all, but how the fuck do you know this? This is supposed to be a secret society that’s been sitting on something super super secret since the early Crusades or longer, a thing so secret that not even the Vatican’s finest torturers could extract it from the Templars, and yet you – Rando McWhatsisface – know that they created another secret mcguffin quite recently?

Either Bob knows more than he’s telling about the Priory or the Priory leaks more copiously than the Trump Administration.

Sophie says this is nonsense (from your lips to God’s ear, Soph) and that even if this cryptex reveals the hiding place of the Holy Grail, there’s no reason her grandfather would give it to her. Also she has no idea what the Holy Grail is, because she’s having one of those moments of intense stupidity that she often has whenever the plot demands it. We all – including Sophie – know what the Holy Grail is. Anyone who ever watched Indiana Jones or Monty Python knows what it is, but of course she has to pretend confusion because in this book the Holy Grail is probably not a cup but something symbololological.

Langdon realised to his surprise that she was right. He had not yet had a chance to explain to Sophie the true nature of the Holy Grail. That story would have to wait…

Goddamn, this book is infuriating. Just a reminder – we are still no closer to discovering the true nature of the Awful Unspecified Thing Sophie witnessed ten years ago, or what earth-shattering thing passed between Bish Bling and the cardinals when he was having multiple flashbacks at the Vatican Observatory. I’m all for teasing a mystery but sometimes an author needs to just drop their drawers and put out.

Langdon quickly explained to Sophie everything he had heard about the keystone.

HOW ARE YOU HEARING THIS? THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE MOST SECRETIVE SECRET SOCIETY IN THE WORLD.

Don’t make me bust out The Scream again, Bob. Just don’t.

Anyway…where were we? Oh yes – according to the not-very-secret society of HEY DID YOU HEAR WE WERE A SECRET SOCIETY, the location of the Holy Grail was never written down but transferred verbally to a new rising senechal at a ceremony that Dan tells us is clandestine but can’t be that bleeding clandestine because everyone in this book seems to know about it. Seriously, even Silas knew about this and Silas is so magically stupid that he ought to be working in the White House. (Excuse the blizzard of Trump jokes in this update, but it was written in the wake of the Comey firing and how the hell could I not?)

However, at some point during the last century, whisperings began to surface that the Priory policy had changed. Perhaps it was on account of new electronic eavesdropping capabilities…

…or perhaps it was because these people were just heinously, hilariously bad at keeping secrets. Seriously – if you’re even halfway competent at keeping shit on the downlow then whisperings don’t surface. End of story. Why is everyone in this book so awful at everything?

So, yeah. On account of whisperings the Priory no longer even speak the name of the secret location of the Grail, and instead they employ the keystone somehow…? I don’t…oh, never mind. Let’s let Bob explain this, because I don’t get it.

“When one of the top four members died, the remaining three would choose from the lower echelons the next candidate to ascend as senechal. Rather than telling the new senechal where the Grail was hidden, they gave him a test through which he could prove he was worthy.”

Then there’s a dense paragraph about how the Freemasons used to carry on a bit like this, which is probably how it ended up in this book as one of the protocols of the Priory of Sion, because God forbid Dan Brown should come up with two original things in one book. Also his next book is going to be about Freemasonry, because he’s done a whole page worth of research and he’s not about to let it go to waste.

Of course Sophie is used to this kind of scavenger hunt foolery, because she’s a Sauniere by nature, if not by name.

“So the keystone is a preuve de merite,” Sophie said. “If a rising Priory senechal can open it, he proves himself worthy of the information it holds.”
Langdon nodded. “I forgot you’d had experience with this sort of thing.”
“Not only with my grandfather. In cryptology, that’s called ‘self-authorising language’. That is, if you’re smart enough to read it, you’re permitted to know what is being said.”

I’m not sure anyone in this book is smart enough to read the back of a cereal box at this point.

Langdon’s blood-starved brain finally creaks to the point we’ve all guessed already; that Jacques Sauniere was not only very high up in the Priory but was most likely the Grand Master himself. Sophie backs this up by saying he might well be, because she’s seen things, an admission that sets the Awful Unspecified Thing louring over the conversation like the cigar-stained grin of a octopoid children’s television presenter from the 1980s. Then she briskly says she’d rather not talk about that, leaving Langdon to brush off her palpable distress and carry on merrily thinking about how this whole thing affects him.

Bob, you’re a douchebag. I hope you know that.

Langdon’s incredulity intensified with the realisation that he had been slated to meet Sauniere tonight. The Priory Grand Master called a meeting with me. Why? To make artistic smalltalk? It suddenly seemed unlikely. After all, if Langdon’s instincts were correct, the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion had just transferred the Priory’s legendary keystone to his granddaughter and simultaneously instructed her to find Robert Langdon.
Inconceivable!

montoya
I’m just going to leave this here.

Of course, Bob doesn’t know that the other three senechaux are also deader than disco, although by now this feels like it’s the only sodding thing that Nelly Know-It-All doesn’t know about the Priory of Sion. But it doesn’t matter right now because the truck stops and our nitwit friends detruck in the middle of a wooded area. This time there are no dicks and buttocks – well oiled or otherwise – on display, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that they’ve driven in a giant circle right back to the Bois de Boulogne, because look how long they spent farting around in the Louvre.

Vernet stepped into view, a strained look in his eye. In his hand, he held a pistol. “I’m sorry about this,” he said. “I really have no choice.”

Oh look. It’s a cliffhanger. Are you excited? I’m excited. I’m so excited I could just shit.

Chapter Forty-Nine

Andre Vernet decides to mug Sophie and Langdon for the box because while he was initially helping Sophie because he was friends with her grandfather, he has now discovered there’s something maybe a bit sketchy about the way she turned up at his bank at three o’clock in the morning, smelling of soap, blood and blacklight pen and possibly with bits of a priceless painting still stuck to her knee.

Vernet’s visage turned ice-cold, an eerie transformation. “Mademoiselle Neveu, I don’t know how you got that key and account number tonight, but it is obvious that foul play was involved. Had I known the extent of your crimes, I would never have helped you leave the bank.”

Wait, what? Didn’t they straight up tell Andre Ice-Cold here that Sauniere had been murdered? And only now he’s considering the possibility that they might be responsible?

Sophie says they had nothing to do with Sauniere’s death, but then Andre says the radio claims they’re also wanted for the murder of three other men. I don’t get it. You don’t credibly go from unquestioningly believing someone innocent of one murder to then equally casually buying the fact that they’ve bumped off three in one night.

“What!” Langdon was thunderstruck. Three more murders? The coincidental number hit him harder than the fact that he was the prime suspect. It seemed to unlikely to be a coincidence.

It’s not a coincidence, Bob. Because this is a Dan Brown novel. There are no coincidences. (I’m so tired.)

The three senechaux? Langdon’s eyes dropped to the rosewood box. If the senechaux were murdered, Sauniere had no options. He had to transfer the keystone to someone.

Good lord, we’ve finally got there. It’s taken nearly fifty chapters, but at last our hero has an inkling of what’s been going on in this book. Also the whole ‘knocking off the four senechaux’ plan cooked up by the bad guys – which never looked like rocket science to begin with – is looking increasingly and hilariously simple since everyone and their cat appear to know the power structure and safeguards of the upper levels of the Priory of Sion. This Teacher dude allegedly scored a cool twenty million from furnishing Opus Dei with this information, making him the smartest person in this book since Bar of Soap bit the big one at the silty bottom of the River Seine.

Vernet says he has no intention of seeing Sauniere’s box being bagged and tagged as evidence in a police investigation, which is sentimental of him but fuck it – I’ve given up trying to understand his motivations for anything at this point. I suspect he’s waving a gun around and telling them about the other murders because the plot needs him to do so. He tells them to hand over the box and fires a warning shot over Langdon’s head, prompting Bob to say ‘shit’ for the second time in this book.

Also the gunshot ‘roars’ like the one in the prologue, a sound effect so weird that it’s stayed with me throughout all these chapters. Maybe guns do roar in France, in much the way that goats bêê or cats ron-ron.

At this point Langdon starts thinking, which is never a good thing.

I’ve got to do something! Langdon thought. I’m about to hand over the Priory keystone!

I don’t know. Maybe if you’d just stashed the cryptex in your jacket instead of putting it back in the box you could just hand over the box like the man with the gun wants you to do? Or would that be stupid?

Instead Langdon goes back to the doorway of the truck thinking maybe from this angle he can kick Vernet or something, which is a great thing to try and do to someone who has just fired a bullet over your head. Acting on instructions at gunpoint, our hero leaves the box in front of the doors and nudges the spent shell from the pistol round in the way of the door runners. Cunning, right?

Well, it might be, but this is The Da Vinci Code, after all. Vernet didn’t count on the box being heavy and is surprised to discover he needs two hands to pick it up. He sets down the gun to pick up the box while Sophie and Langdon stand at the back of the truck with their hands behind their heads. Helpful of them, I’m sure you’ll agree. Vernet goes to shut them in the back of the truck and make his getaway, but discovers the door won’t close because of the shell casing Langdon has nudged into the door’s mechanism.

While Vernet is trying (and failing) to close the door, Langdon runs at him and kicks him in the face. All of this to kick a man in the face.

The chapter ends with Sophie and Langdon retrieving the box and stealing the truck. Crisis averted, plot point revealed. If you ignore the part where Vernet’s motivations made no sense at all, that almost read like a chapter from a thriller.

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