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To hell and back: Book review of ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown

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After starting 2014 by reading two clunkers, I was delighted that Dan Brown’s latest effort, Inferno, proved to be a good old fashioned page turner with a satisfying ending.

As you may already be aware, in some bookish circles Brown gets no respect (Stephen King, author of Pet Cemetery, compared Brown’s Da Vinci Code to the genre of reading he labeled “Jokes for the John”) but I suppose that is the price Brown must pay for his seemingly overnight success. Although his The Da Vinci Code put him on the literary map it also could have potentially derailed his career due to accusations of plagiarism which thus far have been thrown out of their respective courts. Through it all Brown has persevered with two movies made from his novels. Side note: it is reported that Ron Howard has agreed to direct Inferno which leaves the question if Brown’s third book, The Lost Symbol, will ever be produced in cinematic form. Apparently Ron Howard, producer and director of the first two Brown films, was concerned the plot of Symbol felt too similar to the National Treasure films.

Despite all naysayers I have enjoyed all of Brown’s novels. Perhaps because I’m not fancy I only require books of Brown’s genre to be entertaining and maybe give me enough enticement to Google the places he writes about. None of his novels have really made me think differently about Jesus, the Catholic Church, or the formation of the United States. However I will note that Inferno managed to make me pause about a particular world issue.

For me Brown’s forte is writing action with intrigue. He keeps the story moving from one page to the next. Few writers have his ability to leave the bulk of his chapters with cliffhangers. He knows how to keep the reader focused by spreading plot reveals throughout the book; not just save them for the end. However I have never thought of Brown as a great character writer, but with Inferno it feels as if he is improving. His Robert Langdon is a likeable everyman but not someone who is so well drawn loyal readers could pick him out of a lineup – except if he was sporting that hair Tom Hanks had in the cinematic version of The Da Vinci Code then all bets are off.

I believe there was an ease to Inferno that his earlier novels lacked. The Lost Symbol, his first novel after Da Vinci, felt forced at times as if it was a literary litmus test as to if Brown would remain in the “A” league of authors. Now with Inferno being his fourth book and international best seller Brown no longer has to prove himself.

The inferno reference in the title of Inferno is of course a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy (it is called a “comedy” because it was written in local dialect and had a happy ending, works labeled “tragedy” were written in formal Italian and had unhappily ever afters). Since the novel hit the ground running I won’t give too much away except to confirm that the bulk of the action takes place Florence and Venice with a side trip to…hey, if you watched that episode of Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset, the one where the gang goes to a foreign land, check out their morning sightseeing excursion. Of course there are Dante Alighieri references galore. There are also plot holes and author misleads that can leave a reader to scratch her head but overall Inferno is worth the time. I recommend Inferno because it made for good reading while escaping the winter cold.

Happy reading!

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