By Pauline Askin
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Author Dan Brown may have outraged the Vatican in "The Da Vinci Code," but his new book, "The Lost Symbol," is being welcomed by his latest subjects, the Freemasons.
Brown's novel, released on Tuesday, again features the fictional, mystery-solving Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, with the story taking place over a 12-hour period in Washington.
But while the fictional story lines about conspiracy and the Catholic Church in "The Da Vinci Code" caused an uproar among some Catholics and drew censure from the Vatican, a senior representative of the Freemasons in Australia called "The Lost Symbol" the work of a "terrific novelist."
"We are very pleased, there is nothing in this book that will offend my organization. It does give us the opportunity to open it up a bit," said Greg Levenston, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory for the Freemasons.
Levenston said the Freemasons were so excited about the book that they started a book club which will meet next week."Of course the first book we are reviewing is The Lost Symbol, I think it's a wonderful start," he added.
Levenston was speaking to Reuters at a launch event in Sydney for the book, which will have a global English language first print run of 6.5 million copies -- the largest ever first print run by Random House, a unit of German media group Bertelsmann AG
Some booksellers are hoping "The Lost Symbol," and other new releases from bestselling authors such as Michael Crichton, will help revive an industry hit by the global economic downturn. Brown's "Da Vinci Code" has more than 81 million copies in print since its 2003 release, topping international bestseller lists.
Levenston said modern Freemasons are not as secretive as their predecessors, but said secret handshakes and special words are still used to help identify members as "men of trust."
"The secret handshakes certainly do still exist, but we don't roll up one trouser leg any longer. In the old days it was seen as a symbol of humility not for anything else," Levenston said.
Levenston revealed 10 of Australia's prime ministers were Freemasons, as well as legendary cricketer Sir Donald Bradman and veteran actor Charles Tingwell, who died earlier this year.
The history of Freemasonry, a fraternal organization, dates back to around the 16th century. There are approximately four to five million members worldwide.
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)