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`Code' word for success

May 21, 2006|Nick Owchar

Publishers have cast their nets wide to benefit from the hype surrounding the movie version of "The Da Vinci Code," publishing more than 50 works of fiction and nonfiction in the last five months alone. Some have been cooked up to capitalize on the craze; others are first-rate works blessed by the best of all coincidences:

* "The Da Vinci Notebooks," edited by Emma Dickens (Arcade) Here's Leonardo, raw and unmediated, on art, color, anatomy, astronomy and much more. Of all the selections, an aphorism on serving God shows best the maestro's feistiness. He obeys God out of love, he explains, but also because "Thou canst shorten or prolong the lives of men."

* "Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence," by Lauro Martines (Oxford University Press) Martines paints a rich and fascinating portrait of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican friar who ruled Florence after the fall of the Medicis. Enraged by church corruption, he led a Florentine council for 20 years -- until his enemies burned him at the stake in 1498.

* "Fodor's Guide to 'The Da Vinci Code': On the Trail of the Best-Selling Novel," edited by Jennifer Paull and Christopher Culwell (Fodor's) A divinely inspired idea: The editors highlight the major stops on Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu's fictional Paris-London-Roslin trek, complete with maps and plot summaries.

* "The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity," by James D. Tabor (Simon & Schuster) The title suggests an obvious movie tie-in, but Tabor's is in fact a sober work of scholarship analyzing the evidence -- biblical and archeological -- for the existence of Jesus' kin, including his brother James, an important figure in the early church.

* "The Last Cato: A Novel," by Matilde Asensi (Rayo/HarperCollins) The Italian genius of this novel isn't Leonardo but Dante. Ottavia Salina is a Vatican archeologist summoned to study the markings on a corpse -- scars resembling Greek letters and crosses suggesting the existence of a secret brotherhood.

* "Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man," by Martin Kemp (Oxford University Press) Kemp has revised and updated this book, first published in 1981. Although he says "The Da Vinci Code" is nothing more than one of the "free fantasies that have been spun around the artist," Kemp adds that he's not "going to bite the hand that feeds the great public interest in Leonardo."

* "The Sion Revelation: The Truth About the Guardians of Christ's Sacred Bloodline," by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince (Touchstone) The Jesus-Mary Magdalene connection might seem like the world's biggest alleged cover-up, but Picknett and Prince argue that it's all just a smoke screen to draw attention away from the synarchy movement, a shadowy group whose influence hangs over Europe's future like a menacing cloud.

* "The Templar Legacy: A Novel," by Steve Berry (Ballantine) and "The Last Templar: A Novel," by Raymond Khoury (Dutton) Who would ever have thought that the knights guarding pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land would get this much attention? Heaping amounts of historical revisionism and chain mail fill these stories, both about races to find secret treasure.

-- Nick Owchar

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