“Inferno” review #3

“Inferno”. It’s the name of a play. It’s the name of my favourite Jon Pertwee “Doctor Who” story and its the name of Dan Brown’s new novel. It’s a book I’ve been looking forward into, insofar as I’m curious to see whether it will spark the zeitgeist like “The Da Vinci Code” did.

So, how is it? Well, I’m going to unfairly compare Dan Brown’s “Inferno” not to one of the great plays of the 14th Century but, rather, to the classic “Doctor Who” story of parallel Earths, evil goo and terrible plastic teeth.

“Inferno.” It’s not as good as “Inferno”.

Well, that was ambiguous, just like Dan Brown’s use of the language we laughingly call “English”.

“Inferno” (well, the 30% of it I’ve read) has its stock villain with a distinguishing feature (a plague mask), the daring damsel with exceptional abilities and an instant love of the protagonist, a conspiratorial cartel with no ethical compass and Robert Langdon, a man who is obsessed by his suits and teaches courses at Harvard in the pseudo-discipline of “Symbology”.

I wonder what Harvard thinks of that?

“Inferno”, like all the Robert Langdon novels, is about symbols and the hidden messages in the architecture and art that surround us. Langdon is in Florence and cannot remember the last two days. All he knows is that he has been shot, he has a weird cylinder on his person and that someone or some body is out to get him. He seems oddly perturbed by these turn of events, as if he hasn’t been targeted by a Pope of the Catholic Church, hounded by Opus Dei or been involved in a Freemasonic conspiracy before. Indeed, if it weren’t for a few sly references to the previous books, this could be considered the “Your First Robert Langdon” novel.

It has all the elements of a conspiracy thriller. An emerging plot line about a woman with a super-evolved brain, a Council for Foreign Relations scientist who is concerned with overpopulation, some causal art vandalism that suggests Dante and his fans knew more than they were letting on about and the suggestion that the international symbol for biological hazards represents a three-headed devil. It also has the standard set of chase scenes featuring generic characters engaged in a succession of daring escapes and chapter-long pieces of exposition.

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” has yet to truly excite; it’s slower than the first two books but probably slightly above par compared to the third. It picks up pace when Langdon is given something to do other than be dazed and confused, and the female character, Sienna, is unbelievable but strong. As it stands the actual villainous intent seems oddly pedestrian and yet much more terrifying than anything Langdon has faced before; an odd state of affairs brought about by truly terrible exposition on the part of the villain and the woman who (at this stage of the game) seemingly opposes him.

Adequate? No? Terrible? No.

Back to it, I guess.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.