First Impressions: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)

The word for The Da Vinci Code is a rare invertible palindrome. Rotated 180 degrees on a horizontal axis so that it is upside down, it denotes the maternal essence that is sometimes linked to the sport of soccer. Read right side up, it concisely conveys the kind of extreme enthusiasm with which this riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilaratingly brainy thriller can be recommended.

That word is wow.

The author is Dan Brown (a name you will want to remember). In this gleefully erudite suspense novel, Mr Brown takes the format he has been developing through three earlier novels and fine-tunes it to blockbuster perfection. Not since the advent of Harry Potter has an author so flagrantly delighted in leading readers on a breathless chase and coaxing them through hoops.

Consider the book's prologue, set in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre. It embroils a Caravaggio, an albino monk and a curator in a fight to the death. That's a scene leaving little doubt that the author knows how to pique interest, as the curator fights for his life.

The book moves at a breakneck pace, with the author seeming thoroughly to enjoy his contrivances. Virtually every chapter ends with a cliffhanger: not easy, considering the amount of plain old talking that gets done. The Da Vinci Code is breezy enough even to make fun of its characters' own cleverness. At one point, [Professor Robert] Langdon is asked by his host whether he has hidden a sought-after treasure carefully enough. "Actually," Langdon says, unable to hide his grin, "that depends on how often you dust under your couch."

Janet Maslin, The New York Times