Dan Brown's latest work, The Lost Symbol, follows in the trail of the other books that have made the author a super-best-selling novelist.
Though his books tend to focus on complex symbolism and exciting plot twists, Brown likens them to the treasure hunts his math-teacher father arranged for him and his siblings when they were growing up.
"On Christmas morning, when we were little kids, he would create treasure hunts through the house with different limericks or mathematical puzzles that led us to the next clue," Brown tells Robert Siegel. "And so, for me, at a young age, treasure hunts were always exciting."
Success Changes Little
Set in Washington, D.C., and focused on Freemasonry, Brown's new novel continues the tale of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, the same character featured in Brown's fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons.
Since it was published in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 80 million copies, and both it and Angels and Demons were made into hit films. Despite the success, Brown says, little has changed in the way he approaches his work.
"I still get up every morning at 4 a.m. I write seven days a week, including Christmas, and I still face a blank page every morning," Brown says. "My characters don't really care how many books I've sold."
Little changes for Langdon in the new book, either. As in the previous novels, the symbologist lands another attractive and intellectually gifted woman:
"[Langdon is] a blessed man in many ways, I guess," Brown says, laughing. "I love building tension in the novels, and certainly having a female traveling companion, there's always a romantic and sexual tension. Even if it's not on the page, it's implied. ... I love the idea of smart women. I find that very attractive, and obviously Langdon does, too."
Hero As Skeptic
In this book — as in Brown's previous novels — Langdon uncovers esoteric mysteries even as he skeptically dismisses them.
"He's a skeptic, and despite what you may believe, I'm something of a skeptic as well," Brown says. "And I think one of the reasons these books have found a mass appeal is that he's skeptical. He's diving into these conspiracy theories from the standpoint of somebody who doesn't believe them.
"And so you can be an intelligent reader and say, 'Well, I'm sort of interested in this, but I really doubt it's real.' And at every point, Langdon is right there with you, doubting it's real."
His books, Brown says, are also attractive to many readers because they show the world through a different lens.
"They show you something you may think you know about, something like Washington, D.C., or the church or symbols, and you get to see them through the lens of a specialist who has a slightly different take on things," he says.
In The Lost Symbol, Langdon — through Brown — provides a crash course on the number 33, Pythagoras, Genesis, Joseph, Jesus and Islam. The novel is, however, in its essence about the Freemasons, a group that has faced centuries of persecution for its secrets.
Brown says he was sensitive to Masonic sensibilities while writing The Lost Symbol.
"There's a point in the book where Langdon makes the point that misinterpreting people's symbols is often the root of prejudice, and part of what I hoped to do with this book is shed some light, from my perspective, on Masonic symbolism and Masonic ritual," Brown says.
He says he is fascinated by Freemasonry because of its message through the ages.
"We live in a world where people kill each other every day over whose definition of God is correct," Brown says. "And here is a worldwide organization that, at its core, will bring people together from many, many different religions, and ask only that you believe in a god, and they'll all stand in the same room and proclaim their reverence for a god. ... And it seems like a perfect blueprint for universal spirituality."