The thing about Dan Brown is that he is a brilliant researcher and conceptualizer. His writing, however, doesn't really live up to his ideas. Inferno, the latest novel in Brown's bestselling Robert Langdon series, puts the fictional Harvard Professor in Italy, a great location with lots of symbology potential. We soon meet an impossibly beautiful, smart and young doctor who helps Langdon escape repeatedly from a butch female assassin and what amounts to, essentially, a SWAT team. Langdon on the run from unknown antagonists is nothing new, and most of the following novel fails to bring any major surprises. Some late-game surprises help out until they begin hurting the novel even more.
The Roman setting that opens the novel is much better than the Washington DC we saw in Brown's last outing, The Lost Symbol. There is a boatload more history, art and intrigue to sort through, and that serves Dan Brown's strengths. The short chapters keep the suspense building and the pages turning. It's a quick, fun read, with enough researched context to make the novel feel more substantial than it truly is. The man knows what he's doing, and he does it well enough to sell books like water on a hot day.
The world's population--or, more specifically, overpopulation--is a concept that takes up much of the novel, and could make for great book club discussion. As you keep reading, you know something bad has been planned, and the last quarter of the novel is the confrontation with it. This last chunk of the novel is really where Brown loses control of the plot. He keeps building and building until the stakes are so high that ultimately the novel doesn't so much end, but just stop. The solution the characters come to is highly unresolved. I wonder if the next book will take on what he couldn't finish this go-round. My guess is probably not, but we're supposed to assume some kind of resolution has taken place outside of our vision.
Dan Brown is the kind of author who keeps bookstores in business. While Inferno is rich in culture, art and big ideas worth discussing. His execution doesn't really provide answers to his questions, but it's a fun, entertaining ride.
You can find Dan Brown's Inferno at your local chain bookstore, online or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). Also look for the eBook download on your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other reading device.