Origin by Dan Brown

If there’s one thing I really enjoy, it’s a page-turner of a book and, Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon mystery, Origin, is certainly that. Park your bottom, pour a coffee, wine or beverage of choice, put on the lamp, and begin…

Once again, the quiet, Mickey-Mouse watch-wearing Professor of Symbology, Robert Langdon (and now I always picture the wonderful Tom Hanks), is in the wrong place at the right time – the right time to thrust him into the middle of a murder investigation with potentially catastrophic, future-of-humanity-is-at-stake, life-changing consequences.

Attending the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, to hear a former student of his, Edmond Kirsch, deliver a speech he claims “will change the face of science forever”, by delivering the answers to two fundamental questions that have perplexed scientists, religious minds and philosophers for centuries, what Langdon doesn’t expect is the murder and mayhem that unfolds. Though, really, on past experiences (I’m thinking Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and Inferno) maybe he should.

After all, Edmond, a computer and high-tech genius who has made dazzling and accurate predictions for over twenty years that have gained him a global cult following, is no stranger to controversy. Not afraid to poke a religious hornet’s nest, the book opens with Edmond baiting three religious leaders by allowing them a preview of what he intends to release. For such a smart man, this seems like a dumb move as there are those among the faithful who will do anything to ensure his discovery is never revealed.

When the presentation to the world goes horribly wrong, it becomes a race against time as Professor Langdon (and his trusty watch), a beautiful female side-kick (is there any other kind?) and a very sophisticated piece of technology, work to ensure Edmond’s discovery is made public. As much as the good Professor and his helpers seek to do what they believe is right, there are those working against them who believe the same thing and will stop at nothing to ensure they fail, even if it means more bloodshed.

In the meantime, all eyes are turned to Spain – as conspiracy theories and theorists, a growing media pack, denizens of the internet and a digital and real audience simultaneously commentate upon what is happening.

Gaudi’s, Sagrada Familia

There’s no doubt, Brown has perfected the art of making sure his reader is hooked. Fast-paced, filled with didactic speeches (that are nevertheless interesting and entertaining), that reveal religion and science to be both juxtaposed and yet, not as polemically situated as one might think, Langdon’s mission is, indeed, an ideological game-changer… or is it? Tapping into the zeitgeist, Brown ensures that the questions tormenting many in the world at present such as the role of religion and faith in a technologically-savvy, rational world that constantly seeks proof and wonders can these two oppositional ways of thinking ever find common ground, are asked. Required to suspend your disbelief (which is fine), there are some strange plot points that frustrate rather than illuminate, and so impact upon the overall believability, even within this genre, of the sometimes OTT actions and consequences. Mind you, the glorious descriptions of Antoni Gaudi’s works does go someway to compensating.

As is often the case, the journey to uncover answers is often more exciting and revealing than the destination. Still, there is much to enjoy about a book that excites the mind and the mind’s eye, turns an academic into, if not a super-hero, then certainly a hero and, it seems, religious authorities into villains while concurrently overturning a great many expectations. There’s also a satisfying twist that many might see coming, but that doesn’t reduce the impact.

Overall, another fun, well-paced, Robert Langdon adventure, replete with groans, dad-jokes, and some fabulous facts. I hope he takes us on a few more.

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Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Dan Brown’s books come laden with so many expectations – and not all good. Savaged by many critics, and often unfairly, it is for his fans to decide whether or not one of his books deserve the kudos the sales suggest and, if you go by those alone, then his books are not only popular, but eminently readable.

Inferno, the fourth Robert Langdon book, is a strange and ofttimes predictable beast. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous Langdon outings (love a book that makes an academic an intellectual and action star – shades of Indiana Jones – and has as its core mystery literature, art and symbols) Inferno, for all that it presages the passionate poet Dante, flames and the burning heat of hell, left me mostly cold.

Once again, a quest features and a puzzle that’s centred on a famous work lies at the heart of the mystery, a mystery that begins when Langdon awakes in hospital in Florence with no memInferno (Robert Langdon, #4)ory of how he got there or why. When strangers try to take his life and a beautiful and clever female doctor offers rescue and potentially some answers to the blanks his memory has become, Langdon jumps (literally) at the chance.

Pursued relentlessly, able to solve cryptic questions and read the stories into and behind famous and old art, Langdon moves around Europe and Turkey, discovering friends and enemies with abandon. All the while, the reason for his memory lapse and deadly pursuit starts to become clear – and, if Langdon doesn’t find the answers required of him in time, then not only is his life forfeit, but the safety of the world is at stake.

Blending very relevant and fascinating modern science conundrums and a pressing social issue (no pun intended), Langdon is once again up against an all-powerful megalomaniac who will stop at nothing to see his vision realized.

Brown has the formula for these “intellectual thrillers’ down pat now. Only, the rush of Angels and Demons, the development of plot and character that made his earlier works retrospectively well-liked, has been sacrificed to a degree for too much didacticism. In many ways, Inferno is part travelogue and part historical, literary, art, and scientific treatise, as if Brown wants to prove his research and travel credentials by packing all the information into the novel. As a result, some of the characters function as little more than mouthpieces who serve this purpose alone. We are given asides about art, buildings, and scientific research – not all immediately pertinent to the story – that could have been delivered more subtly or not at all. They tell don’t show and the story suffers as a consequence. Perhaps this is also why so many of the characters are black or white in terms of their ideologies and motivation. Even when Brown tries to paint shades of grey (and he does) they are tinged with obvious good or evil hues that makes them unsurprising and sometimes dull.

For all that, this is still a page-turner, even if sometimes I was turning them because I wanted the tale to end. Overall, however, it’s a good holiday, escapist read. I knew what I was getting and in that sense, wasn’t disappointed. I do think some critics judge Brown as if he should have written War and Peace, Mrs Dalloway, or The Dubliners or at least judge him by weighty and incomparable literary criteria, when what he does write is thriller cum potboilers that are, as sales and other evidence attest, definitely crowd pleasers.

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