Inferno is the latest offering by Dan Brown. It is one of his stand-alone series of Robert Langdon novels, presumably involving a puzzle, mystery, and ancient conspiracy. I review this one apart from his others because any of the series can be read and understood without the context of previous books.
WHY I PICKED IT UP
This is a reckoning of sorts; Brown comes under a lot of criticism for being commercial fiction, but I have a personal score to settle with this author. Back when his last novel The Lost Symbol came out I bought it because I enjoyed Brown’s books. I greatly liked Angels & Demons, thought Da Vinci Code was overrated, but generally liked it, and was anticipating the new release.
It was awful.
Though many mystery writers adhere to a formula, Brown’s was wearing paper-thin (no pun intended) by his third Langdon book. His sci-fi concept, though truly grounded in real life, was too complex for me to take seriously, and he seemed to give up on characterization almost entirely.
I made the joke in a conversation last night that Brown writes Langdon novels as a series of MadLibs—
Robert Langdon awoke in (CITY NAME) and began (INSIPID ACTIVITY). He then met (FEMALE PROTAGONIST WHO WILL APPEAR ONLY IN THIS NOVEL AND IN NO OTHERS), and she was (ADJECTIVE). “Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “It’s The (SECRET SOCIETY)! They’re out to get (MACGUFFIN) and have us killed by (MYSTERY ASSASSIN WHO IS A CHARACTER WE’VE KNOWN ALL ALONG)! Let’s hurry into that nearby (HISTORIC LANDMARK)!”
That was fun to write!
Anyway, the real kicker of Lost Symbol came at the end when it was revealed the bad guy was some twat with an Oedipus complex and nothing anybody cared about was actually at stake–the very definition of anti-climax–which was the insult after the injury of reading the already mediocre novel.
Long story short, I read Inferno now this to give Brown a chance to redeem himself.
WHERE/WHY I STOPPED
I nearly stopped on the second line of the prologue (I decided not to be that dickish, but I did quote A Bowl of Petunias–“Oh no, not again.”) I muscled through that part and, while the prologue is a bit confused, uninformative, and poorly written, it at least departs from his formula–no murder scene, no assassin. I haven’t stopped reading yet (beginning of Chapter 2), because the surprises continue. Robert Langdon awakes in an Italian Hospital with… Amnesia!
Corny? Maybe. But at least it’s different, and it’s a hook to keep you reading. It is good to see Brown changing it up a bit, but I wish he’d have done something less cliche`d than the old ‘Soap-Opera-Standby.’
WHAT COULD BE BETTER, IF ANYTHING
First off, his references to Dante’s Inferno are infernally oblique (no subtlety in sight), and Brown shows off some lazy exposition and poor sentence structure.
I’ll quote a bit from the prologue:
I pass behind the palazzo with its crenellated tower and one handed clock…snaking through the early-morning vendors in Piazza di San Firenze with their hoarse voices smelling of lapredotto and roasted olives.
So, he could smell the vendor’s voices? Honestly, I was just skimming until this unnamed first person narrator started talking about killing himself, but that wasn’t until page 14.
It seems like Brown and his editors aren’t expending as much effort as they should and, from a business standpoint it makes sense. As many have remarked, this book will be a bestseller no matter what–wasting time in editing is a needless expense when everybody’s gonna buy this book anyway (I did not buy this book, though!).
Say what you will about his style (or lack of it), Brown knows how to write a hook, and the fact that he’s keeping this novel slightly less predictable means I’m giving him a chance. I do intend to continue this book until I get bored and I will follow-up–my recommendation may change as such.
As always, I urge you to decide for yourself: What do you think of Brown and his writing?
ALSO–I’m announcing my first CONTEST later today! The contest will go live at 5:00 PM Central so check back for fabulous prizes!