I admit it; every now and then I enjoy an airplane read. And, since I was caught up in the Dan Brown frenzy years ago with The DaVinci Code, I have read all of his books (except Deception Point).
Brown hit the motherlode with The DaVinci Code—how can you miss, with an albino assassin, evil priests, and a doozy of a conspiracy theory? Well, for one, “a shot rang out” not once in that book, but TWICE—where was the editor? Probably turning the pages as fast as I did to find out what would happen next. After DaVinci I went back and read Angels and Demons. More evil Catholics. The anti-matter bomb was a bit much, but a priest was burned at the stake in the Piazza Navona, where my friend Candace and I had enjoyed cocktails years earlier. How can you not love that? I loved visiting places that I had seen, even if my experiences were nothing like those of series protagonist Robert Langdon.
Brown failed with DaVinci’s followup, the tepid and derivative The Lost Symbol. I wanted Masons to be as evil as Catholics, but the conspiracy at the bottom of that book just wasn’t, well, BAD enough to warrant a thriller. The US president has a secret? Sorry, I’m just not surprised about that, but whatever secret he has can’t be as silly as the one Brown gives the president in that book.
So I hoped for an albino, or an evil priest, or a terrible conspiracy, when I found that Brown was going to do for Dante what he did for DaVinci in his latest thriller, Inferno. Sad to say, however, this one is another miss.
True, it’s a page turner, and the secret at the bottom is truly awful—awful in the sense of world-changing tragedy—but it lacked heart. Robert Langdon is back, claustrophobic as ever, and with another forgettable young woman sidekick, spends about twenty-four hours being chased, shot at, and threatened by all sorts of bad people in Florence, Venice, and Istanbul. Just who the bad people are is part of the suspense, but I didn’t care enough about them to pay very close attention—I finished the book the morning after I started it.
Again, Brown is on solid turf in Florence—the Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari Corridor, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens all figure prominently. He does something very, very bad to a Vasari painting for which he should be pilloried by art historians everywhere. St. Mark’s in Venice gets the Brown treatment also (especially the famous horses), and the book ends in an underground chamber beneath the landmarks of Istanbul, with an ending that would, if true, change the world as we know it. Oh, and Dante gets quoted a lot, but it’s all very silly, because if such a villain existed in the real world, he would never leave such cryptic breadcrumbs behind. He’d just do his evil deed and be done with it.
But by now the formula is tired, and Brown needs to move on. What once was an albino is now a spike-haired leather-clad lesbian (?), but she fails to threaten either the reader or the characters. She does, however, exit the story in a moment I found both dreadful and hilarious at the same time. One of the characters uses a special private jet credit card; I must have one of those. And this time, “a single shot rang out,” but it only rang out once.
Read Inferno if you must, but when the next Dan Brown comes out, wait for the reviews. If it’s the same formula, pass it by.