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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Angel City by Jon Steele

urlBook Two in the Angelus Trilogy, Angel City, provided as a net galley copy by the publishers in exchange for an honest review (thank you), is an action-packed, hold on to the edge of your seat read, that’s a cross between a high-octane adventure/crime novel and something akin (but much better) than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with doses of philosophy, science and astronomy thrown in for good measure.

Commencing with an explosion that rocks Paris and the cosmic forces protecting and harming humans, we’re once again introduced to Jay Harper, ageless, timeless (in a sense) and very much damaged protector of humanity.

Over two years have passed since the events in Lausanne Cathedral and the dark forces made to retreat at the end of book one are back in full force and twice as virulent. Recruited once more to fight for “good”, the weary Harper is coerced into accompanying a murderous priest and his strange, younger but quite brilliant side-kick on a hunt through the catacombs of Paris, a hunt to uncover a sinister object that may or may not spell the end of life as we know it. Certainly, it’s discovery signals the beginning of the Prophecy is at hand – a prophecy the dark forces will do anything to prevent being fulfilled.

In the meantime, Katherine Taylor, the hooker without a heart, has not only found she has one, but that it’s firmly beating for her adorable son, Max. Whisked to the United States and forced to forget the people and events that almost claimed her life in Switzerland over two years earlier, Katherine is in the protection of the Swiss guard, living a more than sheltered life and medicated regularly.

Segueing between cracking exterior scenes involving Harper to more sedate and intimate domestic ones with Katherine and her son, to the killer priest and his accomplice, Goose, the book sets a relentless pace except when imparting important pieces of information and some essential historical context. Convenient sometimes, but always interesting, these moments of exposition also provide unexpected depths and richness to the novel and the series.

Well plotted, beautifully written, the characters we were introduced to in the first book are developed further, new ones enter and minor players are given significant roles. The heart-warming scenes between Katherine and her son, as well as the growing romance between her and one of the Swiss guards, display a heart and soul that was very much located in the central character of the first book, Marc Rochat. In these parts, Katherine comes into her own, and the relationships she develops with her son and his minders are moving and convincing.

The parts featuring Harper are lashed with grotesque violence, humour and eternal questions about human’s place in the universe. Always distant from those he interacts with, Harper maintains this sense of otherworldiness with the reader as well, which is alternately frustrating and yet understandable.

This is a terrific sequel to a wonderful first novel, I look forward very much to reading the concluding book, The Way of Sorrows.

 

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