How did it get to this? The ‘sordid’ life of a star author
Thriller writer Dan Brown has made a fortune exploring hidden codes after his breakthrough blockbuster depicted a secret marriage between Jesus Christ and Mary of Nazareth.
Now a stunning lawsuit from his ex-wife accuses The Da Vinci Code author of living "a proverbial life of lies" and siphoning the couple's bank accounts to finance at least four "sordid" affairs.
In a series of plot-worthy accusations, Blythe Brown says her husband of 22 years slept with women including a Dutch horse trainer, a local hairdresser and even a politician in the Caribbean islands where they kept a home.
Blythe Brown also claims that she was the brains behind the The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 80 million copies since it was published in 2003, in a lawsuit in which she is seeking unspecified damages.
The pair's divorce was finalised in December, but Blythe said in a suit filed on Monday in a New Hampshire court that she had since discovered he hid profits from the books as well as an upcoming TV series.
She said she decided on the legal action after learning of his affairs.
"The relationship between Blythe and Dan was based on mutual trust, respect and honesty - or so she believed," the suit said.
"As it turns out, for the last several years of their marriage, Dan engaged in a systematic pattern of deception and lies."
Dan Brown, who was an English teacher living not far from his New Hampshire hometown when The Da Vinci Code exploded into one of the best-selling books in history, has often cited his wife as inspiration for the series of books based on character Robert Langdon.
Indeed, while the pair didn't have children, Brown said in 2017: "We've got seven books, those are the kids."
Blythe Brown says in her lawsuit that she "served as lead researcher, first-line editor and critic'', was Brown's "literary partner in the fullest sense" and that she had "developed the premise of the critical concepts, historical emphases, and complex plot twists" for all of his historical novels.
Dan Brown said in a statement this week that he was "stunned" by the new lawsuit and that he had always given his wife her due credit.
"For reasons known only to her and possibly her lawyer, Blythe Brown has created through this suit a fictional and vindictive account of aspects of our marriage designed to hurt and embarrass me," he said in a statement Tuesday.
In an interview to promote the follow-up books to his initial bestseller, he said: "I was writing about the Louvre and the Grail, but it was Blythe who said I should write about Mary Magdalene too. I probably wouldn't have written (The Da Vinci Code) without her. She's a great researcher."
And in evidence given to fight a previous lawsuit in London, where he was unsuccessfully sued for plagiarism by two other writers, he said she was instrumental in its inception.
He told the court in 2005 in a statement that Blythe "lobbied hard for me to find a way to use a theory which concerned the legend of the Holy Grail - the so-called 'bloodline theory'.
"Initially, I was reluctant … finding it too incredible and inaccessible to readers," he said.
"I thought it was a step too far. However, after much discussion and brainstorming with Blythe, I eventually became convinced that I could introduce the idea successfully."
Blythe Brown, who is an artist, art historian and former music producer, said she was taking the legal action because she was so hurt to learn about his affairs.
"Dan has lived a proverbial life of lies for at least the past six years, seeming to be the epitome of a world-famous novelist leading a simple life in his home state of New Hampshire, while in reality he was something quite different," she said in the suit, which was filed in Rockingham Superior Court.
"For years, Dan has secretly removed substantial funds from his and Blythe's hard-earned marital assets to conduct sordid, extramarital affairs with women - one half his age - and to pursue a clandestine life."
Blythe alleges her husband engaged in "unlawful and egregious" behaviour by secretly funnelling money from their bank accounts to one of his lovers.
Described in the complaint by the initials JP, the woman was a specialist Friesian horse trainer from the Netherlands whom Blythe Brown said she had flown over to their New England home to train her horse.
She accuses him of spending $AU500,000 on a prize-winning horse for her, as well as other gifts.
"The net effect of these transgressions substantially reduced the marital estate," the court papers say.
She said that after the divorce she learned he was in a continuing relationship with the young woman, and that Dan Brown had spent money renovating her Dutch property.
"Dan had, for a number of years, secretly siphoned funds from their marital assets, at least in part to finance his activities with his mistresses, including … a young horse trainer who lived in Holland," she alleges in the suit.
She said she had started to notice her husband changing in 2014, when he "started to act distant, dressed differently, and instigated arguments … over inconsequential matters for no apparent reason", and that she agreed to a quiet divorce in 2018 on the understanding they would stay "best friends".
But she decided to lodge the lawsuit after learning that he had affairs with at least three other women; his personal trainer, a politician in Antigua, and a New Hampshire hairdresser.
"I've done bad things with a lot of people," Blythe Brown says her ex-husband told her when confronted.
In a statement, she said: "This lawsuit is about standing up for myself and asserting my self-worth.''
"I trusted this man for decades as my life's love. We worked so hard together, struggling to build something meaningful. With great success came our promises to each other that we would not let it change us or our life together. I don't recognise the man that Dan has become. It is time to reveal his deceit and betrayal. After so much pain, it is time for truth. It is time to right these wrongs," she said.
The family dramas are a far cry from the "middle class" existence which was described as "mundane" in a series of profiles written about Brown after his runaway successes.
The Guardian in 2004 noted he lived a quiet life, that was "not exactly a riot of hedonism that might win him an invitation to join Byron, Hemingway and Thomas at your fantasy dinner party".
And Brown himself had hinted at his frustration in the same article.
"Langdon is the man I wish I were," Brown said of his main protagonist in 2004.
"Langdon is cooler than I am. One of the luxuries of being a writer is that you can live vicariously through your characters."
Originally published as Inside the 'sordid' life of Dan Brown