Robert Langdon’s back. Yes, the Harvard University Professor of religious iconology and symbiology, who has a knack of stumbling across ancient mysteries with modern repercussions is with us again. And after tackling the Illuminati, Da Vinci, and the Freemasons, he now takes on a foe who draws inspiration from one of literature’s greatest works, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” in general and one of its part, “Inferno” in particular. Only this time, he does not stumble across something but starts off knee deep in the hoopla…or to be more literal, in blood. Yes, the beginning of Inferno has shades of The Bourne Identity as Langdon ends up with a bullet wound in a hospital in Florence with no idea of how he got there. There is a temporary loss of memory and he now has to figure why he is here and why is someone trying to end his residence on Mother Earth.
Of course, the assassin is lurking around to have another pop at him. Of course, there is a massive conspiracy behind the attack. Of course, the world as we know it is in danger. Of course, an attractive young lady is there to help Langdon survive. And of course, making sense of it all involves unravelling a mystery, which (of course again) involves traipsing around monuments, unearthing hidden clues.
In other words, Inferno is standard Dan Brown fare. There is the usual mix of interesting trivia, history lessons and conspiracy theories, with the good professor trying to make sense of it all. At the heart of it all is a fanatic who thinks that Dante’s Inferno is actually a prediction about the human race and is therefore working to wipe out part of it (the human race) using rather scarily nefarious means. It is up to Langdon to unravel a whole bunch of mysteries, some literary, some architectural, even as he tries to outwit an organisation that is determined to trip him up. There is also a government and WHO angle for good measure.
All of which should make Inferno a worthy addition to Dan Brown’s “ancient mystery and symbols meet modern conspiracy” array of titles. The problem is that it does not all quite fit in as smoothly as in say, the Da Vinci code. Some of the descriptions of architecture and paintings are so tedious that we actually had to open Wikipedia to get a better idea of what the author was on about. There is also a greater accent on action than in the past (is this the Hollywood influence, we wonder) – and alas, Brown is no Ludlum or Maclean when it comes to that part of literature.
The result is a novel that tends to drag, spluttering to life every time a reference to Dante or architecture comes up – you are so tempted to make notes about strange inscriptions (oh yes, we are going to stare at one particular painting in Rome and see if we can spot the hidden words there), messages and clues. That apart, there is no real rabbit pulled out of the plot hat – we were able to get a fair sense of what was happening a third of the way through the book (which is narrated from the perspective of the pursuer as well as the pursued – neat touch). There are no outstanding characters and the conversation also at times seems to ebb rather than flow, which can make reading this 500-odd page book a tad tedious.
Which brings us to the big question: is Inferno worth a read? Well, if you are a Dan Brown fan, definitely. It serves up the cocktail of symbols, puzzles, conspiracies and ciphers that are the author’s speciality. But if you are more neutral, we would suggest caution and even waiting for the paperback version. For, while Inferno contains most of the standard Dan Brown ingredients, the final dish does not quite taste as delicious – or should we say Infernal – as we have come to expect from this particular chef of literature.