“Inferno”. It’s the name of a play. It’s the name of my favourite Jon Pertwee “Doctor Who” story and, as such, I’m going to unfairly compare Dan Brown’s “Inferno” not to one of the great plays of the 14th Century but, rather, to a classic “Doctor Who” story.
It’s not as good as “Inferno”.
Well, that was ambiguous.
Just like Dan Brown’s use of adjectives.
“Inferno”, of which I am now seventeen percent of the way through, has its stock villain with a distinguishing feature (a plague mask), the daring damsel, a conspiratorial cartel with no ethical compass and Robert Langdon, a man who is obsessed by his suits.
Which is about it, at the moment.
Oh, there’s an emerging plot line about a woman with a super-evolved brain, there’s some causal art vandalism and the suggestion that the international symbol for biological hazards represents a three-headed devil, but, for the most part, this is a standard thriller with generic characters engaged in a succession of daring escapes and chapter-long pieces of exposition. By this point in “Angels and Demons” or “The Da Vinci Code” we were already knee-deep in symbology symbology symbology.
I’ve always maintained that the Robert Langdon novels started off mediocrely and proceeded to get worse. “Angels and Demons” is a decent thriller; overwritten, yes, but it dashes along and has a quite clever twist. “The Da Vinci Code” somehow triggered something in a mass of readers which propelled it to the top of the charts and made it something you could respectably read outside of an airport lounge. As a book, though, it was too contrived. “The Lost Symbol” … Well, Robert Langdon spends almost sixty pages in a pagoda and the twist ending is that the Freemasons are hiding the existence of the Bible.
“Inferno” hasn’t given away anything yet, and that’s a problem. Thrillers like this are driven by the central conceit. “Inferno” is keeping that conceit back, which suggests there isn’t going to be much to it. Certainly, I’m not sure what Brown is riffing off, because Brown ain’t telling and he ain’t showing.
Back to it, I guess.