On the recommendation of several friends, I started reading the The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I'm sorry to say that the opening of the book didn't thrill me. I don't think I'll be giving too much away if I describe what bothered me about it. A prominent man is murdered. Within 5 hours or so of his death, the police visit the last man the victim was supposed to see, a professor of "symbology," which, from the description given, appears to be a discipline that approaches works of art like a telegraph operator reading morse code. Before he is even asked whether their meeting took place, or where he had been the last few hours, the police show him a photograph of the corpse, take him to the crime scene, and ask him several questions as to his theory of what the evidence reveals. In other words, the first instinct of the police in this book is not to suspect the last man whom the deceased might have met of committing the murder, but rather to show him all the evidence and enlist him, and his peculiar specialty, to help solve the crime.
In Borges' masterful story Death and the Compass, the Dupin or Holmes character eschews the simple, pragmatic explanation offered by the police inspector and embarks on an investigation of Kaballah to solve the crime. In Brown's fiction, the police inspector would insist on a Kaballistic explanation, ignoring the far more prosaic solution at hand (which, in the Borges story, turns out to be the correct assumption). Brown could have arrived at a more economical introduction simply by making his protagonist the police force's staff symbologist, something that would be no more of a pretense than the introduction he offers.Posted by Ideofact at September 2, 2003 11:28 PM