Boyd Tonkin: Devilish plotting that might oust Brown

The Week In Books

If Dan Brown were a high-calorie snack food, which would he most resemble? A bucket of KFC? A battalion of deep-fried Mars bars? A sackful of cheese'n'chilli tacos? Whatever your poison, the book trade has deemed that, come September, we will all be gorging on The Lost Symbol in an international orgy of sub-literary munchies. As the film of Angels and Demons dunks us in the Brown stuff once more, and a tie-in edition flies up the charts, perhaps this grave threat to the health of the planet's cultural arteries needs its own Jamie Oliver as an antidote. How might readers enjoy the same quasi-addictive high without feeling they have steeped their system in the print equivalent of super-saturated fats?

Long before The Da Vinci Code made the shy teacher from New England into a global Godzilla of the bookstores, authors far superior to Brown had patented the recipe for border-crossing intrigue, long-buried secrets and high-level conspiracy that pivots on some hiddden key to understanding the past and controlling the present. By far my favourite novel of clandestine fraternities, spine-chilling plots and mystic revelations was written 200 years ago by a Polish adventurer, Jan Potocki: the legendary Manuscript Found in Saragossa. And it's infinitely more erotic than the prim Mr B.

More recently, Umberto Eco achieved the bizarre feat of publishing a rip-roaring pastiche of the Da Vinci Code genre years before that novel ever appeared. Foucault's Pendulum, his 1988 successor to The Name of the Rose, mixes all the requisite occult (schlockult?) ingredients with lip-smacking relish and panache – Templars, clerics, manuscripts, world-domination plans, last-minute chases and imminent global catastrophes. Not surprisingly, Eco looked on in bemused hilarity when Brown served with a straight face what he had already played for sophisticated – but still utterly engrossing – laughs.

For the conspiratorial potboiler, almost all roads lead to Rome. However silly the spectacle of TV-friendly Jesuit scholars unpicking Brown's theology and church history, at least the Vatican grasps that his appeal taps into a seam of anti-clerical suspicion that long predated the Reformation and has never yet run out. If plotters in cassocks and dog-collars float your boat, then other authors can rustle up similar dishes in more a savoury style.

The Book of Q and The Overseer by New York novelist Jonathan Rabb easily out-manoeuvre Brown in grand and dark ecclesiastical designs. Back in Italy, the labyrinthine action of Imprimatur by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti "revealed" what historians had always known about the collusion between the papacy and enemies of the Catholic church in the 1680s. Rather fancifully, the authors claimed that shadowy forces in the Vatican had (naturally) conspired in secret to bury their novel – but it still somehow sold a million copies.

For page-riffling ingenuity attached to historical heft and narrative muscle, no recent conspiracy epic comes close to the Reformation romp Q by "Luther Blissett". In this case, the book's back-story surpasses in improbability anything that takes place on the page.

Named in tribute to a former Watford striker who suffered racist abuse while playing at AC Milan, "Luther Blissett" was the sobriquet of a quartet of anarchist cultural pranksters from Bologna. For some still-mysterious reason, they turned to subversive historical fiction – and succeeded mightily.

Changing their name to "Wu Ming", the group followed Q with 54, which wittily permed its knotty Cold War plot with both Cary Grant and Marshal Tito. In July, "Wu Ming" will release another show of period pyrotechnics in Britain: Manituana, which promises an Indian-centred alternative history of the American Revolution. Why wait for an emetic binge with Brown with such tasty and robust helpings of Bolognese sauce already on the table?

P.S.Geoff Chaucer, Bill Shakespeare, Charlie Dickens, Bert Lawrence: your boys took one hell of a beating. To be exact, the England Writers football team recently lost 6-1 to Germany. The drubbed squad includes Joe Dunthorne, Patrick Neate, Tobias Jones, Nicholas Royle and Marcus du Sautoy (left), whose moonlighting as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford probably makes a right mess of his training regime. Now their coach Aidy Boothroyd (who once steered Watford FC) has vowed revenge. Another 90-minute tussle with German authors looms on 13 June, followed by joint readings at Café Oto in Dalston. Post-match, I suspect the visitors won't get past a kick-about with "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn" before the hosts are screaming foul and mobbing the ref. Let's hope it doesn't go to penalties.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone