Inferno: Dan Brown, August 29—September 12, 2014
My rating: ♦♦◊◊◊
The world’s unluckiest professor returns in Inferno, which sees Robert Langdon wake up in Florence, recovering in hospital from a near-miss bullet wound with amnesia.
Aided by the pretty doctor Sienna Brooks (previous credits include Katherine Solomon, The Lost Symbol and Sophie Neveu, The Da Vinci Code) he is soon zipping round the country on a cat-and-mouse chase to decipher cryptic Inferno-related clues (previously the Lost Mysteries and the Holy Grail) while being pursued by both the local authorities via Agent Brüder (also known as Director Inueto Sato, The Lost Symbol and Captain Benzu Fache, The Da Vinci Code) and a representative of the shady Consortium organisation (previously the Masons and the Priory of Sion) Vayentha (Mal’akh, The Lost Symbol and Silas, The Da Vinci Code) before eventually meeting up with the clever old soul Jonathan Ferris (Warren Bellamy, The Lost Symbol and Sir Leigh Teabing, The Da Vinci Code), all the while saddened by the sudden death of his friend Ignazio Busoni/il Duomino (Peter Solomon, The Lost Symbol and Jacques Sauniere, The Da Vinci Code).
While their is, again, a tiny bit of familiarity in store from his previous books, Brown mixes things up a little more than usual with this one, with varying success. Brooks has more about her than her predecessors, and there’s quite a lot of side-switching and alliances of convenience formed. With the Consortium acting on behalf of a client, whose intentions they plan to remain deliberately ignorant of, there is a very different kind of vested interest from them. The book is at its strongest when it explores the links, connections and complex relationships between all of the various stakeholders.
Also different is the “mystery” itself. Unlike Symbol and Da Vinci, Langdon is not trying to solve an ancient mystery, but is following a deliberate trail of breadcrumbs that has practically nothing to do with Dante’s Inferno other than the fact the clues left for him are deliberately based on it. The same story could have been as easily set in Manchester following a trail of clues about Coronation Street for all the difference it made in real terms.
The storyline is very clever, and there are some great twists (alongside the less great, quite predictable ones). The storytelling is, on the other hand, terrible. Clearly another well-researched piece, each new scene opens with a review of the setting, a detailed description of who built it, why, what they died of and how many paintings of them were hanging round the world in tribute. If you’re very interested in Florentine architecture – happy days, you’ve met your dream book. Otherwise, there is an awful lot of dry minutiae to wade through. In all seriousness, the architecture-to-story ratio is probably 3:1 in the main body of the story.
There are a few other annoying habits too. One is the incessant need to recap everything, over and over again, even at the end of the scene in which it took place. Brown obviously thinks his readers are utter plonkers who can’t retain anything longer than Langdon can maintain a quiet life. It’s irritating and a little insulting.
Second, his idea of character development appears to be to pick on one aspect of their personality that “humanises” them, and bang on about it constantly, as if it is their only thought at all times, without ever really changing – i.e. progressing - it. Yes, Brooks is a genius. Yes, Sinsky is infertile. No, nothing changes apart from the fact they think about it every moment of the day, despite the latter being about twice the age of the Queen by all accounts.
Third, the unrealistic relationships are nothing short of stupid. Langdon, for instance, sulks on numerous occasions about Brooks keeping her “secret” of child prodigy-hood from him. She hasn’t opened up and told him all about it, he complains. Why on earth a young woman would bear her soul to a random professor on the day she meets him, whilst running for their lives in a time-sensitive pressure cooker, is beyond me. He didn’t mention his traumas in France looking for the Holy Grail, did he?
Fourth, he recaps far too much.
A major theme of the book is the overpopulation of the planet, and the ends justifying the means. Both of these are explored with, naturally, some amount of repetition but they also pose some very interesting questions that will challenge the reader right up to the last page.
While the concepts and storyline are brilliant, extremely poor writing spoils the latest Langdon adventure. With some heavy editing, the strengths could shine out so much better.
Disclaimer: To maintain the integrity of neutrality, the reviewer declares that his image was used by the publishers as part of the marketing campaign for this title in 2013.