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Da Vinci Code's last secret - how did it succeed?

Written by: Staff

LOS ANGELES, May 15 (Reuters) It may be the last mystery left about ''The Da Vinci Code'' -- how did a work by a near unknown author and sneered at by some of literature's leading lights become one of the best-selling novels of all time? With well over 40 million copies sold worldwide and the film version of the novel set to open the prestigious Cannes film festival on Wednesday, it is a question that scores of authors and would-be ones would love an answer to.

To hear some people tell it, author Dan Brown stumbled on the literary equivalent of turning lead into gold.

They say his was a formula that mixed clumsy, forgettable sentences with breakneck pacing, lectures on art, history and religion, sinister conspiracies, evil villains, puzzles and cliffhanger chapter endings to produce literary gold.

While some like novelist Salman Rushdie called the book ''typewriting'' and others, like critic Laura Miller, called it ''cheesy'', book industry professionals refuse to sneer, saying this was far from a case of good things happening to a bad book.

It was instead a case, they said, of all a reader's wants appearing to be conveniently located in a single book, especially the desire to learn something.

In this case, the teaching was about a highly debatable thesis that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and their descendants continue through the present day.

Nick Owchar, deputy editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, said: ''My theory is that non-fiction sells better than fiction and this book has a heavy concentration of history and purported facts that people have taken to. It doesn't read well as a novel but it reads well as an encyclopedia.

''The book challenges the familiar story of Jesus's life but it is also challenges ideas that for a vast number of Americans are a familiar part of their faith and people enjoy toying with things that are subversive.'' MORE REUTERS SHB HS1454

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