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Bookends: Plumbing the Depths of the Inferno December 29, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Plumbing the Depths of the Inferno

By Dan Davidson

October 9, 2013

– 855 words –


Inferno: A NovelInferno

By Dan Brown


480 pages



Inferno: A Novel

By Dan Brown

Narrated by Paul Michael

Random House Audio


17 hrs and 12 mins



It should come as no surprise that Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon thriller would already have a Wikipedia entry. Handy for a reviewer, I must say, since it lists the dozen or so major characters and spells their names for me. We listened to this book a few weeks ago while driving across British Columbia on Highway 16 and returning north on the Yellowhead out of Edmonton. It was a good travel companion and an apt one, seeing as so much of it was about travel.

Brown wisely returned to Europe for the setting of this novel. The Washington based setting of The Lost Symbol really didn’t have as much sparkle as the first two Langdon books. It was also wise of him to chuck the plot pattern that had plagued all of his early books, that of having the villain of the piece suddenly emerge from the hiding place of having been one of the protagonist’s trusted advisors or mentors.

In addition, while it helps to have read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (especially The Inferno) and to have studied enough art history to be familiar with the work of Botticelli, it’s not essential. All will be explained, sometimes a little too frequently, as the book’s plot unravels.

Brown also dispensed with the standard Langdon opening, in which the professor is called upon to solve a puzzle, and we meet his hero lying in a hospital in Florence with a chunk of his memory missing and no idea how he got there. It appears that he has been shot, and it further appears that the extremely dangerous woman who shot him has tracked him down and has arrived at the hospital to finish the job.

Those things established, Langdon and Dr. Sienna Brooks begin what will become a roller coaster ride that rolls out in something close to real time. It seems like it ought to take more than just a bit more than a day for all the events in this novel to take place, but it also seems that, except for some flashbacks, that is exactly the case.

We are quickly launched on a guided tour of Florence, Vienna and Istanbul, as Langdon seeks to uncover the meaning behind the image of the painting he has been given and its connection with the hallucinatory dream that is all he can recall of the previous day.

In the meantime, we get to know something of the workings of the Consortium, the powerful international organization which has been helping Bertrand Zobrist stay in hiding for much of the last year. As the book progresses the Provost, who heads this company, come to realize that he has made a mistake.

Zobrist was obsessed with the problem of human population control, and had decided that, since the old Malthusian methods of hunger, war, and disease were not doing the job, something new, something with the impact of the Black Death, was needed to defuse the population bomb before it got completely out of hand. He had presented this thesis to Elizabeth Sinskey, the head of the World Health Organization, before he vanished, and she has been trying to find and stop him ever since.

As it turns out, she did approach Langdon for help, and then he was injured. As the story progresses, we and Langdon realize that he had already solved some of the mystery before he was attacked and that he is solving it all over again, only this time while suffering from limited amnesia and a concussion.

Given that this is a Robert Langdon thriller, it is not a spoiler to reveal that there are several points in the novel where nearly everything that you thought you had figured out in terms of character motivations and the actual shape of the problem is stood on its head, reversed, and sent off in a completely different direction.  That is one Brown pattern that has remained a constant through all of his books so far.

Lots of reviewers complain about Brown’s awkward style. It’s not so obvious when the book is read by as good a narrator as Paul Michael. My main complaints would be the seemingly endless repetitions of Langdon’s dream and the frame-by-frame revelation of the video that Zobrist left for the Consortium to release to the public. It’s that video that makes the Provost decide he has made a serious mistake in honouring his contact with his client.

Unlike Brown’s three previous novels, the antagonist in this story is not driven by a religious mania. Quite the opposite, in fact. His solution to the problem that terrifies him is cold bloodedly rational, and he does what he does with the very best of intentions, no matter how extreme his solution might be.

The ending will leave you wondering if he might not have been right.






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