Can you believe it’s actually 10 years since The Da Vinci Code was first published?
A book revered by those who - not having heard of the 1980s non-fiction bestseller, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - thought Dan was the first writer to explore the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been an item. And that their descendents might still be around.
A book reviled by those who couldn’t believe a novel so badly-written could sell so many copies.
A book that spawned a whole of heap of spin-off titles involving a famous historical figure and a variation on the word ‘code.’ Often, publishers would even change the title of a novel to appeal to Dan Brown’s readers.
For example, the US bestseller Interred With Their Bones by the academic Jennifer Lee Carrell became, in the UK, The Shakespeare Secret, by JL Carrell (thus also ticking the JK Rowling box).
And now, just when you thought the bottom of this particular barrel had been so comprehensively scraped that it no longer had a bottom, here comes - The Camelot Code.
Here’s the blurb:
On a starlit summer’s night in the Welsh mountains, an old man is torn from sleep as an ancient prophesy unfolds...
Enter the world of books with Phil 'the Shelf' Rickman
The old man is, yes, Merlin. Though not the Merlin, you understand. This is an old man who carries the bloodline of Merlin and works for another man carrying the bloodline of - yes! - King Arthur.
King Arthur, the blurb points out, is a man ‘once dismissed as a myth.’ But now the legend is about to come to life. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a city not normally linked with Arthurian lore, Mitzi Fallon is starting her new job with the FBI’s Historical, Religious and Unsolved Crimes Unit.
Single-mom Mitzi is about to fly out of Frisco to uncover the ancient secret hidden in the heart of Wales. And, er, another secret that bodes ill for The Pope.
Oh yes, as the blurb concludes, this book is ‘perfect for fans of Dan Brown.’
Perfect, also, for the start of a new series of the BBC Radio Wales book programme Phil the Shelf, a show that loves to rip the author’s plastic sword out of the publisher’s polystyrene stone.
And yet - I had to hand it to the author of The Camelot Code, the pseudonymous Sam Christer. Sam didn’t skimp on the research, which goes all the way back to key Arthurian sources like Geoffrey of Monmouth.
While it may not lead to a bunch of pulp fictioneers determined to carry on the bloodline of Christer, Sam’s writing is certainly slicker than Dan’s, and perhaps more aware of the jokes. And in its totally bonkers way, the plot actually hangs together.
Anyway, on The Shelf, you can hear Sam Christer talking about The Camelot Code, and there’s also FG Cottam discussing his latest bid to revive the British Horror Story with The Memory of Trees, which is about what happens when a billionaire businessman plans to restore a great swathe of Pembrokeshire’s ancient forestry.
All I can tell you about what happens is, in the great tradition of MR James, it’s nothing good.
But what is good is that the new series of Phil the Shelf runs right through Christmas, giving you a few ideas for presents for loved ones - and maybe one or two for people you don’t like.
Oh, and Shelfstarters is back. Our attempt to get you, the listener, into print with a top publisher. And there’s still time - as you can find out on the programme.