The story in Dan Brown's new novel, Inferno, begins as Robert Langdon, the tweed jacketed Harvard Professor of symbology (who was also in the Da Vinci Code) regains consciousness in a hospital bed after a gunshot wound to the head. He is suffering from amnesia and has absolutely no idea who could have sewn a metal cylinder with a biohazard symbol into a secret pocket in his tweed jacket.
Soon he is on the run with an attractive and super intelligent young female doctor in a desperate bid to prevent a deadly virus from spreading across the world. To arrive at the truth he must decipher a series of cryptic clues. His knowledge of Dante's Divine comedy "The Descent to Hell" helps him to find the messages hidden in artworks scattered around the city in galleries, gardens and secret labyrinthine corridors.
Immersed in a Fantasy World
By nature I am not a thriller reader as I dislike the violence and lack of character development. So I had avoided being one of the estimated 80 million people who bought the Da Vinci Code. But when I was sent a review copy of Inferno I was persuaded to try it. To my surprise I romped through it in a couple of days. The chapters were short and the cliff-hanger at the end of each was sufficiently compelling to make me want to read on.
I handed it to my partner, John, an avid thriller reader. He took his time over it. He felt that the story dragged on, unlike the best kind of thriller which is so gripping that you simply can't stop reading it once you start. From his point of view it was also too far removed from reality:
"A terrorist engages in acts of senseless violence and would not wish to be caught. No way in the world would he leave a series of clues to follow."
The fact that the plot was highly improbable hadn't really bothered me. I had become immersed in the fantasy world Dan Brown had created.
Dan Brown's writing style frustrated him. "Why does he keep using italics? It's a bit like using too many exclamation marks." I had to agree. Dan Brown is not a great wordsmith although his plain English makes for an easy read.
I would love to visit Florence again with a copy of Dan Brown's Inferno at my side. There are many descriptive passages of picturesque locations where Langdon frantically searches for clues. In Florence there are high hopes that Inferno will persuade tourists to flock to their city in greater numbers to follow Dante's trail.
But John found the whole art thing pretentious. "All that symbolism took away from the action, and slowed the narrative down."
He'd agree with Monica Hesse who commented in the Washington Post that: "It's like trying to solve a mystery while one of those self-guided tour headsets is dangling from your ears."
Dan Brown intended Inferno to be more than just an entertaining thriller. He has publicly said that he wants to raise awareness about the modern problem of overpopulation in our world. It greatly concerns him.
But is a thriller the best vehicle to get his message across? It did leave me with a feeling of unease as to how big this problem is, and how it could be addressed. But I suspect that most readers will just enjoy the story without pondering overly much about this larger issue.
Overall I thought Inferno was an action packed good read. I would recommend it for a plane book, especially on a long haul flight. At over 450 pages long it would certainly last the distance!
Author: Dan Brown