Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing quite like an author desperately trying to establish their literary cred by referencing classic works of fiction. Guess what is mentioned in Inferno.

Professor Robert Langdon is back for another inexplicable adventure to save the world. This time a madman with a love for Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Black Death is threatening to release a new disease that could wipe out humanity. Only Langdon and his latest arm candy can save the day.

If it isn’t obvious, I have a like-hate relationship with Dan Brown novels. Dan writes very entertaining novels that are well paced with interesting plots. But he also manages to bash readers over the head with plot points – or character traits, or other random things he deems important – and squeeze in a lot of useless exposition. The useless exposition often feels like an attempt to impress readers with the amount of research that has gone into the novel. But when he starts mentioning things like Dim Mak – the mythical pressure point and no touch martial arts technique – with credulity, I cringe.

There are other points I find amusing about Inferno in particular. The continuous referral to six-foot tall Langdon as “tall” says a lot about the author (or editor’s) height. The desperate need to reference great literary works in a mass-market thriller novel. The idolatry of Langdon by various characters – “she was admiring him more and more”, “his deep voice” – is heavy-handed at best. But for these points, I wonder if this is a result of Dan’s success and wide appeal. Could it be that because Dan sells billions of copies of his books that he and his editors have to make sure the book has wider appeal and comprehension? Or is it the reverse; is his appeal that every plot point is hammered home, and that the reader is repeatedly bludgeoned with how awesome the protagonist is?

For all the book’s faults, Inferno was an entertaining read. Upon picking this novel up I was refreshingly entertained. Worth a read for fans of Brown, Steve Berry, James Rollins, etc.

[Spoiler]

I wanted to rip the final scene out and rewrite it. Langdon is returning the stolen Dante death mask to the museum but the curator can’t meet him. So Langdon sneaks in and replaces it, reopening the exhibit himself.

Boring!

How about Langdon being caught in the act of replacing the death mask. Security recognises him as the guy who stole the mask a few days earlier but hasn’t gotten the memo about Langdon being off the hook. So they are arresting him at gunpoint, to wit Langdon responds, “Please, I can explain.” The handcuffs go on and the book finishes there.

[/Spoiler]

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Language expert take on Dan Brown novels: “A renowned male expert at something dies a hideous death and straight away a renowned expert at something quite different gets a surprise call and has to take an unexpected plane flight and then face some 36 hours of astoundingly dangerous and exhausting adventures involving a good-looking (and of course expert) member of the opposite sex and when the two of them finally get access to a double bed she disrobes and tells him mischievously (almost minatorily) to prepare himself for strenuous sex. Where are we?” And another.

Book Review: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The Cross (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #2)Sign Of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’m not sure if I’m meant to be excited, enrapt, or cringing. It’s taken me a few days to arrive at a decision and I’ve decided to cringe.

Sign of the Cross is a fast paced action adventure novel in the vein of Steve Berry, James Rollins, or that guy who wrote the book that annoyed the Pope; what was his name? In the second instalment of Payne and Jones’ adventures, the mercenaries are hired to hunt down two archaeologists who have uncovered a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. Meanwhile a team of killers are reenacting the crucifixion, because, you know, that’s what Jesus would have wanted. With everyone hunting for Payne, Jones and their pet archaeologists, and a few murderers running around, who at the Vatican knows and who wants the secret, and do they want it for power or payback?

This is the first Chris Kuzneski book I’ve read, and it will be my last. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the story and writing, I’m actually surprised I finished the novel. Kuzneski came up in my recommendations because he writes fast paced adventure novels like two of my favourite authors, the previously mentioned Berry and Rollins. Unlike those two, however, Kuzneski takes all of the same ingredients for a novel, mixes them in an overly large bowl (the book is over 400 pages), and manages to make gruel.

The novel started well, but I noticed myself cringing at the end of the chapters with the ham-fisted foreshadowing. This continued until I would start preemptively cringing as I reached the end of each chapter. Seriously, it felt like the end of every scene or chapter Kuzneski would have a line like “Little did they know that only two of them would return.” But wait, there is more. There is an underlying casual sexism and racism to the novel that is unintentional, but jarring. An early scene has one of the characters, Nick Dial, surprised to see a woman Interpol agent. Not that Nick was sexist, women could be just as good as men……. No, Nick explained that he wasn’t sexist, but some of his bosses weren’t as open minded. Yeah. I’m not sexist, but….

These two points are just the major problems I had with the writing of this novel. And it is mainly the writing that lets this book down. In the example I just mentioned, there are many ways authors could discuss Nick’s surprise at seeing a woman on the job. But the way the scene was written it sounded like the author was desperately trying to sound progressive and PC. This poor writing happened throughout the book, which actually has a reasonable plot, a bit of humour, and great pacing. Some readers may not notice these issues, although I note many reviews complain about the foreshadowing, and it was entertaining enough for me to finish reading, so others may find this enjoyable. But I would recommend reading anything by Steve Berry or James Rollins instead.

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