Robert Langdon is in trouble. No surprises there, then. Contacted by an envoy of a powerful institution, Langdon is summoned across the Atlantic for the expertise that only the Harvard Professor can offer. Sound familiar?
But this review isn’t for The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons, or even The Lost Symbol; welcome to Dan Brown’s latest example of recycling, Inferno. And to give credit where credit’s due, Brown has added a new dimension to the tried and tested formula; this time Langdon has amnesia.
Waking up in a hospital bed, the tweed-suited professor embarks on an extended chase around Florence, fleeing his spiky-haired assassin while deciphering Dante-inspired clues. As always, Langdon is not alone in his quest; by his side is Dr Sienna Brooks, defined by her enormous IQ of 208. Throughout the course of the novel, Langdon takes great lengths to teach the genius everything she doesn’t already know, including universally known particulars like the plague-doctor mask. The mask itself is donned by an antagonist who calls himself The Shade, Bertrand Zobrist, a ‘lunatic genius’ who believes overpopulation will cause a Malthusian-esque disaster. It is Zobrist’s creation that Langdon must destroy, a plague designed to ‘thin the human herd’.
Much has been said on the proficiency of Brown’s writing style. Personally I’ve always wanted to go to Florence, and finding a book that resourcefully performs as both novel and Lonely Planet guide makes purchasing the latter redundant. Informative chunks of description capture both the history and geography of the city mid-action sequence. ‘Today the vendors are mostly goldsmiths and jewellers, but that has not always been the case,’ we learn of the bridge into the old city, during Langdon’s escape from the surveillance drone. ‘The bridge,’ Brown continues to preach, ‘had been home to Florence’s vast, open-air meat market, but the butchers were banished in 1593’.
And it’s not just Brown’s ability to have his characters admire the architecture while running for their lives that is slightly jarring. His insistence on mixing metaphor is also a frequent stylistic flaw: ‘a searing bolt of pain travelled directly to Langdon’s head.’ This, coupled with five or six adjectives or adverbs when one would do just fine is, quite frankly, exhausting. The sentence: ‘a powerfully built woman effortlessly unstraddled her BMW motorcycle and advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey’ contains enough description to warrant a post-sentence nap.
Familiar readers of the Robert Langdon series won’t be disappointed with Inferno. It contains all the hyperbolic, predictable action that characterises Brown’s previous three novels – but for readers looking for an easy holiday read, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you can bring yourself to wade through the mass of description, what remains is a genuinely entertaining read with a moral ambiguity unseen in Brown’s earlier works. We are left questioning the identity of the novels’ real antagonist, a role that circulates between most of the characters. Except Robert Langdon, of course.
Inferno is published by Bantam Press. Copies are available for £20 here.