History professor Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call while on business in France: the curator of the Louvre in Paris has been brutally murdered inside the museum. Alongside the body, police have found a series of baffling codes and need Langdon's help to decipher them.
When Langdon and a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, begin to sort through the bizarre riddles, they find a trail that leads to the works of the famous artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. As the clues unfold, Langdon and Neveu must decipher the code and quickly assemble the pieces of the puzzle before a stunning historical truth is lost forever . . .
I know it can be a controversial thing to say in some literary circles, but I am not ashamed to admit I am a fan of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon books, especially Angles and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I have loved stories about quests for lost historical and archaeological items ever since I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the cinema as a child, and if they have a dose of conspiracy thrown in then you've snagged my attention right away.
Of course, I'm not blind to the fact that Brown is not a particularly great writer, but I do believe that at his best he is a damn fine storyteller. I was therefore intrigued and also a little confused when I read some time ago that there were plans to release an abridged version of The Da Vinci Code, specifically aimed at young adults: intrigued as to how an abridged version might compare with the original and confused as to why this was being done. Having now read a copy of the abridged version, I am sorry to say that I am still no less confused, although as it is a few years since I last read The Da Vinci Code I was still able to enjoy it without too much comparison with the original.
So, what have they edited out to make the book suitable for the young adult market? Basically, the expletives, some of the bloodier violence, the detailed description of the flashback scene where Sophie Neveu witnesses her grandfather in flagrante during a ritual, and some of Robert's lengthier explanations regarding ancient sex rites and similar. From this one might therefore deduce that swearing, violence and sex are taboo subjects for teen literature in the 21st Century, which makes me wonder if the editors of this abridged version have actually read any modern YA books themselves?!
Other than that, the characters and the story are still the same, which again raises the question as to why an abridged version is needed? OK, I completely understand the need to take out some of the sexual references and violence, but outside of this it's a little patronising to presume that an adult book needs simplifying for the teen market. My experience over the years has shown that boys who are confident readers will often make the leap from junior fiction or middle grade straight to adult fiction, with only the occasional foray into young adult books. I have lost count of the number of Year 8s that I have seen reading adult books by Andy McNab, Chris Ryan, Stephen King and yes, Dan Brown himself.
With this in mind, I also felt that I needed to judge whether this edition might be suitable for middle grade readers as I was reading it. Would it be suitable for them? The answer is yes, as I believe it has been 'sanitised' enough for confident readers of age 11+, but any adult who works with kids of this age knows that they much prefer books that feature characters of their own age, or a little older. It increases their enjoyment of a story if they can relate to the characters, or aspire to be like them. That is much harder with adult characters, and I am hard pushed to think of any other modern book for teen readers that has no teen characters at all.
Whether it is the original version, or this new abridged version, The Da Vinci Code is still a thoroughly entertaining and exciting mystery quest thriller and I can't help but recommend it. Librarians, teachers and parents may feel more comfortable putting this into the hands of teens readers, in the knowledge that it has had certain passages, etc. edited out. My copy is going to go into the school library, and I will be watching keenly as to its popularity with my young readers. My thanks go to the fab people at Penguin for sending me a copy to review.