Newtown Bee - Newtown, Connecticut
In Telling 'Secrets,' David Shugarts Helps Others Better Understand What They Are Reading
November 10, 2005
By Nancy K. Crevier
It is impossible to talk with David Shugarts about his new book, Secrets of the Widow's Son, without also talking about the two previous books to which he has contributed and helped edit, Secrets of the Code and Secrets of Angels and Demons.
One thing leads to another in research, says Mr Shugarts, and it was research for the latter two books, which attempt to separate fact from fiction for readers of the wildly successful Dan Brown novels The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, that have led him to author a book unusual in that it is actually a prequel to a sequel.
Secrets of the Widow's Son, published in September, is a guide to Dan Brown's yet unpublished novel tentatively titled The Solomon Key. In it, Mr Shugarts delves into the mysterious world of Freemasonry and the lives of our country's founding fathers, both of which Mr Brown has indicated will be prominent themes in his next novel.
The point of Mr Shugart's novel is not to spoil the plot of The Solomon Key, but to engage the reader ahead of time, so that they are better able to discern for themselves how much of the novel is fact and how much of it is fiction. With the publication of The Da Vinci Code, says Mr Shugarts, "Dan Brown has triggered a lot of wonder in people's heads."
Mr Shugarts, a resident of Newtown, where he lives with his wife, Judith DeLuca and son, Andrew Shugarts (The couple has two other sons. Jonathan Shugarts is a senior at University of Connecticut, and Nicholas DeLuca is involved in international trade and finance in Washington, D.C.).
He is a 36-year veteran of journalism. He is also the owner of Azimuth Communications, a business that aides in all aspects of publishing. It is his experience as an aviation journalist, though, that has led him into the secret world of Dan Brown.
In 2004, Mr Shugarts, like millions of other readers around the world, sat down and began to read The Da Vinci Code. He found the theories set forth by Mr Brown in the novel compelling, but his eyebrows raised when he came to a section describing a particular turbo plane with which he was familiar. It was incorrectly identified in the novel.
Further on, he came across yet another glaring aviation error.
"In the novel, [Mr Brown] has the jet turned in the hanger. That could never happen with that jet," he exclaims. He realized that the average reader with no aviation background might not catch those inconsistencies, yet he began to wonder if the other information put forth in the book was as factual as it was presented.
Mr Shugarts mentioned the aviation errors to associates of his in the publishing business. Dan Burstein just happened to be editing a book entitled Secrets of the Code, and he invited Mr Shugarts to contribute to the book through research into plot flaws. What Mr Shugarts found after a page by page, painstaking review of the many facts and theories set forth in the novel, was that "In all details, [Mr Brown] seemed to adopt a philosophy of small details not counting. For example, the characters go down roads the wrong direction in Paris. Or the GPS dot he hides in the soap and tosses into the back of the truck - it is not pill size. It is a transmitter about the size of an invisible fence transmitter. It wouldn't fit in a bar of soap."
These, again, he admits are somewhat trivial errors, but what bothers him is that many of the errors and plot flaws he came up with (and which are revealed in Secrets of the Code in the subchapter The Plotholes and Intriguing Details of The Da Vinci Code) are facts that could easily have been checked, if the author had cared to do so. "In every field, he makes these little inaccuracies," Mr Shugarts asserts.
Mr Shugarts also says that the Priory of Sion, whom Mr Brown assures his readers is a genuine secret society that has guarded an important religious relic hidden for centuries, is in actuality a grand hoax created by a man named Pierre Plantard. A small amount of research, says Mr Shugarts, uncovered this. Maybe Dan Brown knew this, maybe he did not, muses Mr Shugart. But his fact page leads the reader to believe it is authentic.
Secrets of the Code was a huge success, enjoying 23 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. It was named the best of 11 similar books by FaithfulReader.com. Secrets of Angels and Demons, edited by Arne Dekeijzer and contributed to by Mr Shugarts and Mr Burstein, followed quickly on the heels of that Dan Brown bestseller, once more scrutinizing facts and helping readers better understand the complex historical and religious complexities of the book.
Mr Shugarts denies that any of the Secrets books are Dan Brown witch hunts.
"[Dan Brown's] book has sold 27 million - worldwide 40 million - copies. All over the world, people typically ask, 'Could that be true?' We're just here to answer questions, to explain the books."
Mr Brown's novels bring up valid questions, says Mr Shugart, such as why are there not women priests, or whether Jesus ever married. The books also have engaged people in religious and historical quests, and served as a sort of catalyst in the exploration of faith.
In examining Dan Brown's novels, Mr Shugarts discovered the author's fascination with cryptics and symbology.
"It turns out," says Mr Shugarts, "in all of Dan Brown's books there is a digital code in the back of the book - until The Da Vinci Code - that hints to the next book." But The Da Vinci Code uses a new code, and it was research into the message encrypted in the book's dust cover that pushed Mr Shugart toward his book, Secrets of the Widow's Son. If one examines the synopsis on the front flap, one can detect that a few scattered letters are in a faint, bold print. When strung together, Mr Shugart discovered, they read, "Is there no help for the widow's son?"
Ever curious, further research led him to two explanations of this curious question.
"It was one of two things," said Mr Shugarts. "An underground speech about Mormon leaders, or it had to do with Freemasons. It is the Masonic symbol of distress."
Based on this information, Mr Shugarts predicted that Dan Brown's next novel would take place in Washington, D.C., and have to do with the secrets of the Masons, a prediction later confirmed by Dan Brown.
As a prequel, Mr Shugarts cannot predict exactly what Mr Brown will focus on in his next novel, or even if Mr Brown will actually write the novel he has indicated that he will. Mr Shugarts feels that the information he provides in Secrets of the Widow's Son, however, will give Dan Brown's fans a solid base about Freemasonry, a complicated society with a long history and interesting connections to this country's founding fathers and Washington, D.C.
Mr Shugarts has done the footwork for those curious about the Masons and the lives of early leaders in America. He has read volumes of books, visited documents that come up in his research, contacted top historians and spoken with authors whose knowledge he respects in order to write his newest book.
Says Mr Shugarts, "In every area, I Googled like crazy and tried to determine it [the sources] were right or not."
The 50 to 60 pounds of articles he googled are in six volumes and numerous boxes in his office, a testament to his dedication to seeking the truth for his readers.
Mr Shugarts will be at C. H. Booth Library in January to discuss his book. Details are still being decided upon, and will be announced in The Bee once they are firm.
In the meantime, Mr Shugarts awaits the publication of The Solomon Key as anxiously as any other Dan Brown fan.
"When The Solomon Key comes out," he says, "you'll see The Secrets of The Solomon Key. I'll be the managing editor. In this book, I'm hoping I won't have to do a plot checker section, that [Dan Brown] will have realized people are watching and we can really focus on what he is portraying."