Book Reviews

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to 2004 Book Shelf


The Codex by Douglas J. Preston


Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


Click on title or picture to buy from




Douglas Preston’s novel, The Codex, presents readers with a sappy dysfunctional family of three sons and a domineering father reunited in a mission to work together. The writing often disappoints in the form of weak dialogue, erratic character development, predictable plot patterns, and too many clichés. I wanted this novel to be the ideal thoughtless, fast-moving beach novel. Instead, like clouds and rain spoiling a day at the beach, I became more irritated than pleased while stumbling over too much bad writing. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 5, pp. 38-42:


Tom remained on the sofa, momentarily unable to move. Hutch Barnaby was the first to react. He rose and coughed delicately by way of breaking the shocked silence.

“Fenton? Seems we’re not needed here any longer.”

Fenton nodded, rising awkwardly, actually blushing.

Barnaby turned to the brothers and politely touched the brim of his cap. “As you can see, this isn’t a police matter. We’ll leave you to, ah, sort things out on your own.” They began edging toward the door archway that led to the hall. They couldn’t wait to get away.

Philip rose, “Officer Barnaby?” His voice was half choked.


“I trust you won’t mention this to anybody. It wouldn’t be helpful if. .. if the whole world started looking for the tomb.”

“Good point. No reason to mention it to anyone. No reason at all. I’ll call off the SOC boys.” He backed out, and disappeared. A moment later they could hear the sound of the great front door of the house clanking shut.

The three brothers remained.

“The son of a bitch,” Philip said quietly. “I can’t believe it. The son of a bitch:’

Tom glanced at his brother’s white face. He knew that he’d been liv­ing rather well on his assistant professor’s salary. He needed the money. And no doubt he had already been spending it,

Vernon said, “What now?”

The word hung in the silence.

“I can’t believe the old bastard,” Philip said. “Taking a dozen old master paintings to the grave like that, not to mention all that price­less Mayan jade and gold. I’m floored,” He slipped a silk handkerchief out of his vest pocket and dabbed his brow. “He had no right.”

“So what do we do?” Vernon repeated.

Philip stared at him. “We go find the tomb, of course:’


“A man can’t bury himself with half a billion dollars of art without help. We find out who helped him.”

“I don’t believe it,” Tom said. “He never trusted anybody in his life.”

 “He couldn’t have done it on his own.”

“It’s so . . . him,” said Philip suddenly.

“Maybe he left clues:’ Vernon strode over to the breakfront drawers, jerked one open, and rummaged through it, swearing. He pulled out a second, and a third, becoming so agitated that the drawer came out all the way, spilling its contents to the floor—playing cards, Parcheesi, chess, Chinese checkers, Tom remembered them all—the old games of their childhood, now yellowed and shabby with age. He felt a cold knot in his chest; this is what it had come to, Vernon cursed and gave the scattered mess a kick, sending pieces all over the room.

Vernon, trashing the house is pointless.”

Vernon, ignoring him, kept opening drawers, sweeping their con­tents onto the floor, moving on.

Philip slipped his pipe out of his trouser pocket and lit it with a shaking hand. “You’re wasting your time. I say we go talk to Marcus Hauser. He’s the key.”

Vernon paused. “Hauser? Father hasn’t been in contact with him in forty years.

“He’s the only one who really knew Father. They spent two years together in Central America. If anyone knows where Father went, it’s him.”

“Father hates Hauser.”

“I expect they had a reconciliation, with Father sick and all.” Philip flicked open a gold lighter and sucked the flame into the bowl of his pipe with a gurgle.

Vernon moved into the den. Tom could hear cupboards being opened and shut, books being pulled from shelves, things crashing to the floor,

“I’m telling you, Hauser’s involved. We’ve got to move fast, I’ve got debts—I’ve got obligations:’

Vernon came back from the den carrying a boxful of papers, which he slammed down on the coffee table, “It figures you’d already be spending your inheritance:’

Philip turned to him coolly. “Who was it took twenty grand from Father just last year?”

“That was a loan.” Vernon started shuffling through the papers, rifling folders, scattering them on the floor. Tom saw their old ele­mentary school report cards spilling from a file. It surprised him that their father had bothered to save those—particularly when he had been none too pleased with their grades to begin with.

“Have you paid it back yet?” Philip asked.

“I will.”

“Of course you will,” said Philip sarcastically.

Vernon colored. “What about the forty thousand that Father spent on sending you to graduate school? Have you paid that back yet?”

“That was a gift. He paid for Tom’s veterinary school, too—right, Tom? And if you had gone to graduate school he would have paid for yours. Instead, you went and lived with that swami woo-woo in India,”

There was a tense silence. “Go to hell,” said Vernon, Tom stared from one brother to the other. It was happening, just as it had happened a thousand times before. Usually he stepped in and tried to be peacemaker. Just as often it did no good.

“The hell with you, too,” Philip said. He put the pipe back between his teeth with a click and turned on his heel.

“Wait!” Vernon called, but it was too late, When Philip got mad, he left, and he was doing it again. The great door boomed shut with a dying rattle.

“For God’s sake, Vernon, can’t you pick a better time to fight?”

“Screw him, He started it, didn’t he?”

Tom couldn’t even remember who started it.


Back in the office, Hutch Barnaby sat in his chair, a fresh cup of cof­fee resting on his paunch, looking out the window. Fenton sat in the other chair, with his own cup, staring gloomily at the floor.

“Fenton, you gotta stop thinking about it. These things happen:’

“I can’t believe it.”

“I know, it’s some crazy shit, the guy burying himself with half a billion dollars. Don’t worry. Someday someone in this town’11 commit a New York Times front-page crime, and your name’11 be there. This just didn’t pan out.”

Fenton nursed his coffee—and his disappointment.

“I knew it, Fenton, even before I saw that video. I figured it out. When I realized it wasn’t an insurance scam, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head. Hey, it would make a great movie, don’t you think? Rich guy takes his shit with him.”

Fenton said nothing.

“How do you think the old guy did it? Think about it. He needed help. That was a lot of stuff. You can’t move a few tons of artwork around the world without someone noticing.”

Fenton sipped.

Barnaby glanced up at the clock and then down at the papers strewn about his desk. “Two hours to lunch. How come nothing interesting ever happens in this city? Look at this. Drugs and more drugs. Why don’t these kids rob a bank for a change?”

Fenton drained the cup. “It’s out there:’


“What are you trying to say? What do you mean by that comment? It’s out there. So what? Lot of things are out there.”

Fenton crushed the cup.

“You aren’t suggesting something, are you?”

Fenton dropped the cup in the trash can.

“You said, It’s out there. I want to know what you meant by that:’

“We go get it.”


“We keep it.”

Barnaby laughed. “Fenton, I’m amazed at you. In case you didn’t notice, we’re law enforcement officers. Did that little fact slip your mind?

We’re supposed to be honest.”

  “Yeah,” said Fenton.

  “Right,” said Barnaby after a moment. “Honesty. If you don’t have that, Fenton, then what do you have?”

  “Half a billion dollars,” said Fenton.

This excerpt sets up a plot line that abruptly goes nowhere. Unless you’re a fan of Preston, or really enjoy light, bad writing, take a pass on reading The Codex.

Steve Hopkins, August 26, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Codex.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687