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MDELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Check out the best seller list, hard-backed fiction. And, of course, there's the Da Vinci Code with its plot about secret religious societies and the search for the holy grail. And joining it in the rankings from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, are two other novels featuring the Knights Templar: The Templar Legacy by Steve Barry, and the Last Templar by Raymond Khoury. We're joined by Laura Miller, book critic for Salon.com to explain why details of a medieval Roman Catholic history are such hot items on the best sellers list these days. Laura, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Ms. LAURA MILLER (Book Critic, Salon.com): It's my pleasure to be here.

CHADWICK: So, the Knights Templar were formed at the end of the first crusade, supposedly to protect Christian pilgrims going to the holy land. How did they become such a literary fetish?

Ms. MILLER: The main reason why people became interested in them is that they were very rich, and fairly powerful, and they're often seen as having designed an early form of banking. Eventually, the King of France became annoyed with them or wanted to get rid of them, and he persecuted them and convicted them of heresy, and had a bunch of them burned at the stake, and killed in other horrible ways. And there are a couple of mysteries attached to what happened to all of their money. And so, there are a lot of stories in France about places where, supposedly, the treasure of the Templar's is hidden away somewhere and a lot of, oh, all kinds of crack pot theories about how you could go about finding it and where the clues are planted.

CHADWICK: Well, so there's attractive kind of a story line here for a book, but two books? And now, three books on this subject.

Ms. MILLER: It is surprising that there is a never ending appetite for this. But the new twist on the whole Templar story that people just can't get enough of right now is courtesy of the Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code wove together all kinds of conspiracy theories from historical books that have been hits or minor or major through the years into this kind of mega, ultra conspiracy theory story. So, people who want more of that are looking for, you know, similar tales, and the Knights of Templar is woven a little bit into this theory. It's been changed from just a treasure hunt to a sort of hunt for an alternate history of Christianity, and maybe a different way of being a Christian that supposedly has been suppressed.

CHADWICK: These newer Templar books, have you seen either of them, and are they any good?

Ms. MILLER: I've just glanced at them, and early reports were not great, and one of them actually opens with a scene of four horsemen riding into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and stealing some kind of ancient gizmo, and it just seemed, just a bit much to me. So, I actually haven't read them, I'm afraid.

CHADWICK: Is there any other book trend like this you can think of when a group of best-selling novels is based on specific historical events?

Ms. MILLER: Well, that's an interesting question. There was a whole trend in the sixties and seventies of big, fat historical novels in the sort of James Michener, Leon Uris vain that were based on very well researched history. But I think the, the great innovation of the Da Vinci Code was it took this subject matter, which had been mostly fodder for these non-fiction, these claimed non-fiction books, like Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He took these kind of crackpot theory books that presented themselves as non-fiction, and he made them the premise for a kind of a dime-store thriller. So, they were even more trashily fun to read than they were before, and that has spun off a whole genre of these historical conspiracy thrillers.

CHADWICK: Laura Miller is book critic for Salon.com. Laura, thank you.

Ms. MILLER: You're welcome.

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