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'Da Vinci Code' spawns a genre

Reviewer Yvonne Zipp compares four novels trying to replicate the success of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code.'

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While Umberto Eco claimed that "a sure sign of a lunatic is that sooner or later, he brings up the Templars," these days, it's also a sure sign of a bestseller.

It's rare that a book sparks its own subspecies. But in much the same way that "Bridget Jones's Diary" launched a raft of pastel-colored "chick lit," Dan Brown's wildly successful "The Da Vinci Code" - 40 million copies sold and counting - has given rise to a cottage industry of conspiracy theorists.

With "Code" finally out in paperback this week, the Monitor decided to cruise through four new entries in the Grail genre.

The novels range from historical to historical fantasy to straight-on thriller, but all crib from what's known about the Cathars, a Christian sect brutally suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century. Among their beliefs, the Cathars taught that individuals could pray directly to God, rather than requiring an intermediary. This, rather than their vegetarianism, probably led to a suppression so brutal that two of the books claim it's the origin of that delightful saying, "Kill them all, and let God sort them out."

The other group of "heretics" vital to the genre are the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. This won't fit on a book spine, so the thrillers opt for the "Templar" moniker. In 1307, Philip IV of France charged the Order with heresy, in theory so that he could get his hands on their vast treasure.

Templars were tortured and burned at the stake, but the treasure - and a secret artifact that they were rumored to be guarding - was never found. (The Templars are the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition, since they were arrested on Friday, Oct. 13.)

Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse

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