The fourth installment of Dan Brown’s books to feature Harvard’s adventurous art history prof, Robert Langford, finds the hero of Angels & Demons, The Davinci Code, and The Lost Symbol suffering from amnesia and unaware why he’s in Florence, the victim of an attack. Soon, he’s racing through Europe with Dr. Sienna Brooks, trying to decipher the reasons behind the version of Boticelli’s “Map of Hell” contained within a hi-tech cylinder hidden in his sport coat. Soon, the two thrown-together explorers find themselves ducking the military, shadowy operatives, and exploring the historical elements connected to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.
So, how does this fit into the pattern of Brown novels? Does it meet the prerequisite pattern? In the past, Brown has tackled major religious system theology (Jesus was married?) or subgroups (the Masons are bad!) He’s thrown Langford through a pattern of history-laden puzzles like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. And he’s created a complete conspiracy with greater implications which only Langford is clever enough to unravel. And Brown usually reveals that someone close to the case, and in Langford’s inner circle, is bad news. Given the pattern, it’s clear that Brown’s patterns continue (for the most part).
This particular novel has a wider scope than its predecessors but it’s also more technical and less smooth. Several times in the afternoon (yes, I read it in nearly one sitting), I found myself stalled by plot points or clues that I found blatantly obvious. But more troubling was the way in which Brown fell into attempting to impress us with his knowledge of art and the transhumanism movement in Brown-like fashion. While the plot has a very James Bond-like villain, and a certain amount of thrilling scenes, Brown has somehow taken the excitement out of the tale, where his other stories were much more gripping.
Transhumanism’s desire to control the global population (which may or may not be one of its goals, but hey, Brown already irritated some Christians and some Masons, so why not?) raises some interesting questions about how we steward the world we’ve been giving. Is overpopulation a problem? Or is the lack of global sharing of necessary goods a bigger deal? Controlling the population seems Hitlerish rather than humanitarian, but as Brown explains it, it’s more about the long run view for the world than it is about humans in the here or now. Was that confusing? Because then Inferno probably isn’t for you, because you “ain’t seen nothing yet!”
One sentence review: Go read Angels & Demons or The Davinci Code because they’re significantly better.