Don't buy Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol: read these instead
First Post writers choose books as exciting as a Dan Brown novel, but by better writers
Despite punishing reviews - Salman Rushdie famously described it as "a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name" - Dan Brown's thriller The Da Vinci Code has proved to be one of the most popular novels of recent times, selling 81 million copies worldwide.
Today, amid considerable hoopla, Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol, goes on sale. Its publishers have ordered an unprecedented 'first print run' of 6.5 million copies and it is fully expected to become the biggest-selling adult (ie. not Harry Potter) fiction book of the decade.
And yet Brown's writing is universally ridiculed by reviewers and fellow novelists. Stephen King called his work the "intellectual equivalent of Kraft macaroni and cheese". The New York Times film critic AO Scott, while reviewing the Tom Hanks movie based on The Da Vinci Code, called the book "Dan Brown's best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence".
And while you might not expect a linguistics professor at Edinburgh University to be taken by Brown's efforts, you would not perhaps expect him to be quite this rude: Geoffrey Pullum called Brown one of the "worst prose stylists in the history of literature". He added: "His writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad."
This presumably explains why Dan Brown was recently revealed to be the "most donated" author in a survey of Oxfam stores: unable to wade through his leaden prose, many readers have simply discarded his novels.
In a vain effort to put up some sort of protest at today's brazenly commercial publishing event The First Post asked a number of writers and publishers to recommend an alternative thriller - something just as exciting, but well written. Their choices are below, but if you disagree, join the debate in the comments section at the foot of the page: ALONE IN BERLIN by Hans Fallada Recommended by Crispin Black, Intelligence analystA man and woman on the Unter den Linden omnibus outwit the Gestapo - for a while - and then get beheaded. By someone who was there. Exciting enough to make an Opus Dei bishop kick a hole in Dan Brown's windscreen.
THE TWELVE by Stuart NevilleRecommended by Ruth Dudley Edwards, historian and satirical crime novelistEvery page of this superb debut - about what happens when a ruthless ex-terrorist is driven through remorse to seek vengeance for his own victims - will grip, shake, stir, shock, move, astonish and thrill you.
THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK by Fred VargasRecommended by Geoffrey Mulligan, publisher-at-large for Harvill Secker If I can't choose The Twelve - already picked by Ruth Dudley Edwards - then anything by Fred Vargas. She has won the Crime Writers Association International Dagger three times and is one of the most interesting and intelligent writers around. THE DYING LIGHT by Henry PorterRecommended by David Jenkins, Tatler writer and former First Post contributing editorA rattling good story about Governmental wickedness, disappearing intelligence experts, sassy (and sexy) lawyers, the surveillance state and villainous moguls. Beautifully written page-turner with a political core and a barnstorming ending in which, unfashionably, parliament and two peers are the heroes.
THE SINGER by Cathi UnsworthRecommended by Rod Stanley, editor of Dazed & Confused Tense post-punk noir thriller, with whiplash plot twists, buried secrets, and better haircuts than anyone in Brown's books. This is a brilliant second book by a stylish writer, and 100 per cent monk-free. RAIN GODS by James Lee BurkeRecommended by Max Eilenberg, former editorial director of Secker & Warburg and MethuenMy advice: save your money and wait until November for James Lee Burke's astonishing Rain Gods, set in a territory where Cormac McCarthy meets Hannibal Lecter. With a psychotic Bible-reading killer called The Preacher in one corner, a lawman haunted by demons of his own in the other, and a deranged host of losers, dealers, scumbags and terrified innocents cowering between, this is one of the finest novels I've read in years, in any genre.
THE WALLANDER SERIES by Henning MankelRecommended by Matthew Carr, writer and terrorism expert Anything from Henning Mankel's Wallander series. Mankel combines cool, effortless prose, sharp social comment and gripping plots - the perfect antidote to Dan Brownland.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg LarssonRecommended by Jack Bremer, First Post reporterBrilliant opening novel in the 'Millennium' trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, pairing the investigative duo of middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist and punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. The second - The Girl Who Played With Fire - was not quite as good, but still a top-drawer thriller. The third - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - comes out on October 1. Now that will be a publishing event.
THE KINDLY ONES by Jonathan Littell Recommended by Coline Covington, psychoanalystWinner of the Prix Goncourt, this is a Faustian epic about the former SS intelligence officer Dr. Max Aue, caught in the web of Nazi politics. Written as a memoir, its cast of characters includes Eichmann, Goring, Speer, and Hitler. Each stage in Aue's indoctrination is depicted as he is transformed from witness to cold-blooded assassin to ruthless bureaucrat masterminding Nazi atrocities. The thriller is in the final twist of the story. THE END OF MR Y by Scarlett ThomasRecommended by Zoe Williams, Guardian columnistA fabulous book, don't for a second be put off by the quantum physics, it is really more like narrative steroids than theoretical complication. AND SOME CLASSICS:
RED DRAGON by Thomas HarrisRecommended by Philip Norman, author of the recent biography John Lennon: The LifeEither this or The Silence of the Lambs - Harris's first two Hannibal Lecter novels - are more gripping than Dan Brown can ever be and also brilliantly written. Harris can turn a description of police firearms into poetry. It's when he tries to write poetry, as in Hannibal Rising, that he comes unstuck.
DOG SOLDIERS by Robert StoneRecommended by James Delingpole, novelist and Spectator columnistAn edgy hallucinogenic novel about drugs, paranoia and hippydom in the late-Vietnam war era. Written like proper literature, but here's the important bit: grips like a thriller.
THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE by B TravenRecommended by Charles Laurence, First Post North America correspondentBest known as the story behind John Houston's movie starring Humphrey Bogart, this is an edge-of-the-seat journey to the core of human greed, a rat-a-rat pulp gem from an obscure literary master that is as revealing today as ever.
WHEN IT WAS DARK, THE STORY OF A GREAT CONSPIRACY by Ranger GullRecommended by Alexander Cockburn, First Post north America columnistI don't think Dan Brown is all that bad, but just to be different, why not try to hunt down a copy of this. Villain: Constantine Schuabe. His plan: Prove Resurrection of Christ was faked by Joseph of Arimathea. Peak moment: terrific descriptions of collapse across world of all civilized values when London Times trumpets news that Christianity is a lie. Huge bestseller in 1904. PARADISE LOST by John MiltonRecommended by David Cox, writer and TV producerBeats Dan Brown on characterisation, comprehensibility, credibility, momentum and sententiousness, while coming close in religious spookiness. THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER by James HoggRecommended by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, literary critic and cultural historianSerial killing and religious extremism, devils, doubles and a pandemonium of unreliable narrators: a book of brilliant conceits and night-black humour.
REBECCA by Daphne du MaurierRecommended by Justine Picardie, author of an upcoming biography of Coco ChanelWrongly dismissed as a romance, it is unsettling, potent and filled with twists - as tense a thriller as you could wish for.