Review: THE DA VINCI FRAUD, by Jack Dunn and Jonathan Coad, published by Silvertail Books

Phew. Where to start with this one?

Okay. When I wrote THE LAST TEMPLAR, back in the far-distant days of March 1994, not only did I know that this would be the start of a glittering literary career, I also knew that my research had been impeccable, the characterisation superb and the plotting without fault.

Then that blasted man Dan Brown wrote a book which was apparently rather good. I think he took all my money. I’m not alone in thinking this. Other fellows, like Henry Lincoln, Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, thought Brown had ripped off their own book, THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL, which I personally thought was a dire confection of conspiracy theories and guesswork. I did read it, and it was an interesting read, but there was one point in the book where the authors suggested that if you, the reader, could accept a few little points, then …

Well I read their few points, and for me they were all of them ridiculous, but then I had conducted my own research. THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL had some stunning conclusions. First among these was that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, that his bloodline continued to the present day, that there was an ancient “Priory of Sion” which had protected his bloodline ever since – or something along those lines. To be honest, it’s been so long since I read it, it’s only the highlights that remain with me. 

As to the first two – well, no. I don’t think so. Then we come to the Order of Sion – which was a fraud. Look it up for yourself, but it was the rather amusing creation of a man called Pierre Plantard in around 1956, who I think probably invented it as a practical joke. He claimed that he was the direct descendent of the Merovingian kings, that the Priory was created in about 1100, and had various illustrious members over the centuries: Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, and I think various other historically notable characters who simply could not have been involved. It was a ridiculous hoax – hence my suspicion that it was never intended to be serious but was only a practical joke to see how far Plantard could fool the media of the time.

Leigh, Lincoln and Baigent, however, wrote a pleasant book that sold by the pallet. They made good money from it. And then they lost it. They read a copy of THE DA VINCI CODE and concluded that Brown had basically pinched all their research. And he had. No one who reads Brown’s book can conclude anything other than that. But he said he had used it as part of his research, that was all, and since their work was historical, it was only fair that he should use their researches to give veracity to his own book. 

Leigh and Baigent decided to take the matter to law. Lincoln decided against. 

Well, I followed Leigh and Baigent’s case through the courts, and I admit, I felt very sorry for them. As far as I was concerned they had written an interesting fiction. And Brown had swallowed it in one gulp, then said it was all his own research. The judge was dubious about that. In fact he was quite damning about some of the evidence put forward by Brown. But in law, he didn’t see that Leigh and Baigent had a case. The two were told to pay £3,000,000 – a truly staggering sum for mere authors to pay. These were not multi-millionaires. 

Although they tried to appeal the case, they lost that too, and such a massive award was catastrophic for them. Leigh died a short while later of a heart attack, and Baigent lingered on for another six years, constantly pursued by Random House’s lawyers, until worry and strain brought about his death too.

So far, so sad. I spoke once to Baigent, and he seemed a thoroughly pleasant guy. To my shame I didn’t realise who he was at the time, and was rather dismissive of his book, but back then I’d had my fill of conspiracy theorists telling me they knew where the Templars met still, that there was a worldwide Order which was planning world domination ( pretty ineffectually, if you ask me, since it’s already taken them over seven hundred years ), and that they knew the true location of all the Templars’ wealth. Which I do too. Since, when the French King stole all the Templar assets, he had them all itemised and valued. So we all know where the assets went: to the French crown. And the ledgers are still there to prove it in the Louvre.

But this book is not about snowflake conspiracists and theoreticians. This is a man’s own story, and it is beguiling, very sad, and ultimately heartening. It’s a story of determination, knocks-back, renewed courage, and finally success, possibly, against the odds.

Jack Dunn started writing in the 80s, and although he tried to win a major publisher, he was soon to discover, as do most authors, that publishers are not that keen on books! He collected rejections, as do so many writers. His first book, THE DIARY OF WILLIAM GOFFE ( 1982 ) was republished as THE ANGEL OF HADLEY (1989 ), which is a story rather like the British “Angel of Mons” story, about a ghostly angel helping save retreating British troops in the First World War. In Dunn’s book, the ghost was to save Hadley from an attack by native Americans during the colonial period. 

Dunn enjoyed writing that book so much that he was hooked. He wanted to write more, and because he was at the time gainfully employed, working in medical supplies, it took him six years of research and travel to get the plot down for his next book: THE VATICAN BOYS. He began it in 1996, and it was published by a “small New England publisher, Modern Memoirs, in 1997.”

He says, “The Vatican Boys was a labour of love, and the second novel in which I had used my story formula, where painstakingly-researched historical facts were interwoven with historical fictions of my own …” 

Now, I have to make one ( no doubt startling ) confession here. I have never read THE VATICAN BOYS – nor have I read, or seen the film of, THE DA VINCI CODE. So I am going solely on the content of this book and on the word of the two authors. And that makes it a very intriguing book indeed, because Jonathan Coad is not an ordinary author. He is the solicitor who backs Jack Dunn’s case that the “novel written in 1996 was plagiarized to create the best-selling thriller of all time, a book which spawned a series of blockbuster movies and launched the career of one of the world’s most successful authors.” ( Quoted from page one of THE DA VINCI FRAUD, Introduction, by Jonathan Coad. )

I know that there are many solicitors who would be eager to publicize their client’s case, hoping no doubt for a little fame to attach to their names in the process, while merely increasing their client’s risk of a defamation case or increased damages while remaining personally safe. Jonathan Coad has not done that here. As far as I can see, he has deliberately placed himself in the firing line of Dan Brown and Dan Brown’s publishers. He states that “if Jack and I are right, Dan Brown is a charlatan, thief, liar and perjurer who has won court cases on both sides of the Atlantic under false pretences; and his publishers, Penguin Random House, have colluded with him and tried to prevent this book being published, despite having been provided with overwhelming evidence that Dan Brown is just as we characterise him.”

For those who are interested in Mr Coad, a quick internet search will suffice. If you can’t be bothered, this link will take you to his website and list of clients. It’s pretty impressive: https://www.jonathancoad.co.uk/clients/

So here the story is getting more interesting, isn’t it? A reputable UK and international lawyer is tying himself to Jack Dunn’s case. 

So how did this book come about? It began when Dunn was signing copies of his own books in a bookshop, and the staff came to him to express their shock and dismay on reading Dan Brown’s book. One example:  “‘You ought to take a look at this, Jack,’ Henry said. ‘This guy’s copied The Vatican Boys cover to cover.’”

So he read Brown’s book, and it “sounded familiar. I had published that story eight years ago.”

Dunn tried to sue Dan Brown and his publishers in the US. But the judge didn’t accept his case and rejected it out of hand, refusing even to allow a jury trial to see the evidence tested. And as a part of that, Dunn had to sign away his rights to appeal the case in the US. And there things would have remained, until someone else met him at an awards ceremony and asked him what he thought about ANGELS AND DEMONS, because that was a direct copy of elements of THE VATICAN BOYS in places ( although then it followed its own plotline ). Dunn could not accept that he must allow Brown to get away with stealing his work again, and he started to look into how to gain recognition for his efforts. But that was a very difficult matter. Even when he was introduced to Jonathan Coad, a very successful media lawyer, the likelihood was he would get nowhere. Coad, like all good solicitors, was skeptical at first, until he began to study the evidence, and then he was won over after some forensic investigations into “fictional facts”. No. Buy the book if you want to read about them!

This book is not the angry self-justification of an author who feels wronged. Well, yes, in fact it is, but it is a reasoned and well-written summary. And it explains why Dunn and Coad decided to write the story – which is basically to try to force the hands of Brown and his publishers into taking court action in the UK. Dunn and Coad and their publisher are all convinced of the truth and rightness of their evidence. It remains to be seen whether Brown and his publishers will dare seek to test it in court.

So, what did I think of the book? It is a book written by a man who is deeply offended – he’s upset by the treatment he’s suffered at the hands of a multi-millionaire he feels has stolen his efforts; he’s upset by the failure of American justice to protect him from an unfair legal system and powerful multi-nationals; he’s upset by the feeling that he’s been forced to struggle, when his efforts, his work, have led to another man raking in a fortune. Most of all, he’s upset that his research and his writing have not been recognised. 

Does this story read like an angry complaint? Yes – but only in a very minor way. The fury is there, but it’s been carefully edited and mitigated by a professional lawyer. As a result this book reads more like a thriller – it is not a whining protest. The grievance is there, but it never overwhelms. And if true, his grievance is entirely justified.

The book is set out as a simple narrative, taking the reader from the first moment he learns about THE DA VINCI CODE, to the present day. After that there is a chapter which is Jonathan Coad’s own address to the court, explaining the basics of the case as he sees it. That is from pages 185-202. After that are three appendices: first, the letter from Jonathan Coad to Penguin Random House’s legal department; second a comprehensive analysis of the common elements between the two books; third an analysis of specific elements common to both books which includes certain fiction-facts demonstrating plagiarism. These appendices run from page 204-296. That alone gives some idea of the degree of commonality alleged. 

I am no lawyer, and I have not read either THE DA VINCI CODE or THE VATICAN BOYS, so I am in no position to comment on the validity of the allegations made. But as a reader, if only a half or even a quarter of the characterisation, or plot, or commonalities of themes were true, I would have thought they would demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Brown stole Dunn’s ideas and research and passed it off as his own. The publishers tried to destroy Dunn for attempting to protect his work, as they were with Baigent and Leigh, hounding them both, I think literally, to death. 

I have to admit, this is a book I have to recommend very highly indeed. I found it utterly compelling reading, and consumed it in one sitting yesterday. Jack Dunn and Jonathan Coad have produced a masterly story here, and I wish them luck in taking the matter to court and demonstrating that justice can prevail, even some two decades after the event.

Comments
2 Responses to “Review: THE DA VINCI FRAUD, by Jack Dunn and Jonathan Coad, published by Silvertail Books”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael reviews…

    Like

  2. isoltblog says:

    I never knew about this. A fascinating topic, which opens up much debate over the line between creative inspiration and plagiarism. If an author uses the same plot, characters, everything for a story, this will still not create an identical work, yet clearly something has still been pinched. I may pick up a copy of this.

    Like

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