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Thursday, July 4, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

By the time I'd read the first half-dozen chapters in the latest adventures of Harvard professor (and art historian who specializes in iconography) Robert Langdon, I concluded this book must have been written with a movie in mind. And now that I've finished it, I'm even more sure of it.

I'll also say up front that my reason for giving the book 4 stars instead of 5 (as I did for two of the author's other incredibly popular Langdon books, The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons) is - ironically - that this one seemed easier to read: much less complex and difficult to follow. And in many instances, that's is a good thing. But ease of reading doesn't necessarily mean better - and while I enjoyed this one, I can't honestly say it's as well written as those other two.

That Brown has done considerable research is obvious; if nothing else, this book is a history lesson on the architecture of important buildings in all the places in which Langdon finds himself as the plot develops as well as insights into a literary masterpiece, Dante's <i>Inferno</i>, from which the book gets its title. But frankly, such in-depth descriptions of the meaning of every little nook, cranny and horse's foot can get a little tiresome fairly quickly.

From the start, Langdon and his female companion in this book, the beautiful and secretive Sienna, spend much of their time evading capture by forces out to get them (which includes the U.S. government), scurrying in and out of seemingly inescapable hidey-holes. And too often, the situations they encounter seemed contrived (bringing the concept of writing for a movie back to mind again). Yes, Langdon has an eidetic memory, but the uncanny knack of knowing exactly where the secret passageway is and how to get it open sort of strains credulity after the second or third time. 

The same can be said about Langdon's responses at the times when interpretation of a symbol, word, or lines from Dante's work are crucial to solving a particular mystery. Oh, whatever does this mean? Oh wait! I'll just spin around three times, turn the letters upside down, eliminate all the vowels and spit into a silver bucket and eureka - now I've got it! 

Still, it's fun to watch as Langdon uncovers not only who the bad guy is but what he's up to - something that threatens humankind as we know it - and then unearths clues that hopefully will lead him to a way to stop it from happening. There are a few surprises (although not altogether unpredictable). There's even one plot twist that's reminiscent of the ending of Bob Newhart's second TV show when he wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the first show.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my criticism of this book; of the 220 reviews of the book at at the time of this writing, 92 readers gave it three stars or less. But all things considered, I say it's a decent book - just not quite up to the level of writing I'd expected.

But hey. Maybe this will be one of those rare books that works better on the big screen.

Inferno by Dan Brown; Doubleday (May 2013); 480 pp.

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