by Dan Brown; Doubleday, 2013; 480 pages; $29.95
Sin, punishment, tortured souls and a journey to an apocalyptic hell make for a gripping page turner. Dante Aligheri knew it when it wrote his “Divine Comedy.”
Apparently, Dan Brown knows it too.
In his latest book, “Inferno,” Brown takes the same dark tour of the underworld as Dante, with a few deviations.
Like all of Brown’s novels, the book is set in a present day that still feels the looming presence of centuries-old curses and influences. The research-laden city of Florence, Italy, and it rich architectural history — provided by Brown at length — act as supporting characters. And instead of the weighty prose of Dante’s allegorical piece, Brown’s short, two- or three-page chapters propel the action and hold readers’ attention.
Though the plot of “Inferno” does not revolve around the church or religious elements, “The Davinci Code” author’s obsession with cracking codes and devious adversaries is immediately apparent from the message hidden in the dust-jacket text of the hardcover book.
The story begins when Robert Langdon, making his fourth appearance in Brown’s literary universe, wakes up in a Florence hospital unsure of where he is, how he got there or where the last two days went. While Dr. Sienna Brooks attempts to help Langdon recover his memory, a woman with short, spiked hair forces her way into the hospital, and attempts to shoot him. As the sun rises over the Florence skyline and he mysteriously finds himself in possession of a hazardous material tube, Langdon and his savior doctor head out on a long and winding scavenger hunt that will lead to a mad scientist out against the world as well as some expected plot coils and a relatively packaged ending. Much like “The DaVinci Code,” the first 50 pages of “Inferno” are filled with vague foreshadowing and setup that a casual reader may have a difficult time muscling through. But after the slow start, Brown’s writing makes for a quick read despite his lengthy descriptions and back-and-forth dialogue.
Entertaining for sure, Langdon’s latest storyline echos his past adventures with its cliffhanger opening, threat of apocalypse, multitude of puzzles and the humble successes of the middle-aged Harvard professor. With that said, one can only hope that Brown is not falling down the Nicholas Sparks hole of premeditated literary murder by template.
For now, Brown’s latest provides summertime readers with an exciting historic look into Dante’s Italy and enough brain teasers to put Sudoku to shame.