Butler County Times Gazette
  • Costello: Dan Brown improves thriller formula with "Inferno"

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  • Minor Spoilers ahead
    Starting with the first page of his latest thriller "Inferno," author Dan Brown creates excitement, confusion, intensity and imminence suitable for the big screen, which follows suit with his other great adventure books, like "Da Vinci Code" or "Deception Point."
    "Inferno" is latest entry with Robert Langdon, Brown's favorite symbologist Harvard professor who finds himself in a hospital with a wound to his head and no memory of how he ended up there. Langdon is immediately thrust into a wild chase as he tags along with Dr. Sienna Brooks, who tries to help him figure out who attacked him and why they were after him.
    Brown is mostly good at writing fast-paced scenes. One of the major attractions to his writing style is the need to flip the page and see what happens next. With some exceptions, in "Inferno," Brown does a better job of blending the action with descriptions of various European locales as well as supplementing other important information along the journey. This is a vast improvement compared to some of his other books such as "Lost Symbol" or even "Da Vinci Code," in which Brown shoves tedious, history-lesson monologues down the reader's throat. There are still a few occasions in which Brown gets too descriptive right in the middle of a chase scene or while characters are trying to unlock mysteries within text or puzzles, but for the most part, "Inferno" is fun and easy to follow from start to finish.
    Like with his other books, "Inferno" has no shortage of information, historical context or clever references. Langdon and Brooks discover a puzzle involving a depiction of Dante's Inferno, the first of three parts of the famous "Divine Comedy" poem written by Dante Alighieri during the 14th century. The two must follow clues to unravel a mystery to discover who is behind this mastermind plan that involves worldwide catastrophe (more on that in a bit).
    Brown sounds like a tourist guide throughout the book as he gives descriptions, background stories and information on so many landmark locations, buildings, statues, masks and other works of art and literature (Brown like took tours of everything during his time in Italy and simply relayed what he learned into his story). He paints good imagery of the likes of the Consiglio Maggiore, the Pitti Palace (nestled in a low valley near the Boboli Gardens) and Palazzo Vecchio as Langdon and Brooks have to make their way through Florence to evade both their pursuers and the police.
    Again, Brown does a better job of melding descriptions with story. But at times, it almost felt comedic to the point that one would be running away during a chase, take a quick pause to look around and absorb the surrounding, then get back to running. Sometimes it gets hard to picture exactly what's going on or where Langdon and Brooks are heading.
    Page 2 of 2 - Brown isn't shy. He proved that with his "Da Vinci Code" story that proposed an historical fictional take on Jesus, which of course, raised plenty of ire from churches around the world (most of which took the story too seriously). In "Inferno," Brown takes on the World Health Organization and raises a challenging thought to the scientific and health communities. "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in time of moral crisis." Brown's interesting historical fictional take on "Dante's Inferno" tackles the subject of overpopulation. The mastermind of "Inferno" comes up with a way to solve this issue, but at a terrifying expense.
    Thankfully, he leaves behind a farewell video and a few clues that can be used to stop him. Why do bad guys always make such silly mistakes?
    There were some other quirks about the story of "Inferno." The whole book takes place in about 36 hours, yet there seemed to be far too much traveling and observing for that short a time.
    Another quirk involves pacing with Langdon's puzzle-solving skills. One of the most fun scenes in "Da Vinci Code" was when Langdon realized a double meaning of one of the textual puzzles that involved the Rosemary line ("It hides beneath the Rose"). In "Inferno," Langdon has another one of these "A ha" moments, but it seemed way too coincidental. Basically, he's running around until he spots something that jogs the memory of a lecture he gave at Harvard years ago, a lecture of which Langdon remembered every little detail that suddenly became relevant to him in the present. This is nit-picking, yes, but this kind of writing is always irking, and it knacks of laziness.
    There will always be some of those, though. But they don't detract from the fact that "Inferno" is a good read with a thought-provoking plot and plenty of sight-seeing storytelling along the way. Be aware of the ending. It isn't what you'd expect, but that isn't a bad thing.
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