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Dan Brown’s “Inferno”: More Travelogue than Thriller

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Dan Brown's Inferno: More Travelogue than Thriller

I wasn’t planning on reading Inferno. I was so disappointed with The Lost Symbol that I decided Angels and Demons would be my last Dan Brown read.

But all hell broke loose (pun intended) when some Filipinos reacted negatively to Inferno’s reference to Manila as “the gates of hell.” It was hilarious, really, with MMDA Chairman What’s-his-first-name Tolentino writing the author and receiving a sarcastic reply. My interest was piqued and I read the book.

The story? Robert Langdon (the same protagonist in Angels and Demons, and The Da Vinci Code) wakes up in a hospital bed with stitches on his head and amnesia. A gun-wielding woman in black leather shoots one of the two doctors tending him, the second doctor, Sienna Brooks, helps him escape and hides him at her apartment. She hands him a cylinder that was discovered in his jacket when he arrived at the hospital. The cylinder is fingerprint activated, Langdon discovers that it was programmed to open with his thumbprint and, inside, he finds a flashlight projector with a modified image of Botticelli’s Map of Hell, a painting inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The image is a visual riddle of sorts, the first in a series of clues, leading to the location of a virus scheduled to be unleashed by its creator, a geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist who believes that unless the world population is curbed, humanity will be extinct within a hundred years.

And the journey to find the series of clues to solve the riddle begins. The first few chapters were riveting but, midway through the book, I found myself plodding along. It took a lot of effort to keep on turning the pages (okay, swiping the iPad’s screen) just to see how the story would end.

The problem is that the journey turns out to be more travelogue, and art and architecture history. Much as I wanted to revel in the glorious majesty of Florence and Venice, it wasn’t much fun going through hundreds of pages to get to the next part of the plot. Heck, there was so little plot amid all the descriptions of frescoes and sculptures, domes and towers and centuries-old buildings. I mean, I like that stuff but not that much, especially when around 80 percent of it was not necessary to the story. It really doesn’t work trying to turn a thriller-fiction into an art / architecture lecture.

But then, it’s Dan Brown. Didn’t he do the same thing with The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol? Well, although there was a certain amount of superfluous encyclopedic stuff in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, at least, in those two novels, most of the historical narratives were in context. I can’t say the same about The Lost Symbol because it was after reading it that I swore I’d never read another Dan Brown novel again.

Among Dan Brown’s more known works, he wrote Angels and Demons first. The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol came after. I didn’t read them in that order though. I read The Da Vinci Code first, then Angels and Demons, and then The Lost Symbol. I like Angels and Demons best. If I were to assess his novels, including Inferno, in chronological order, I’d say Dan Brown is regressing. His plots are becoming less engaging, and his villains are becoming less and less colorful.

Even his protagonist, Robert Langdon, has progressively become less endearing and more… well, pretentious and smug. In Inferno, he seems like someone who is more intent on giving a lecture if given the slightest excuse and, sometimes, even without any provocation at all. Sure, he’s a Harvard professor. But it makes him less likable when he forever sounds like he’s trying to tell all the other characters that, hey, I’m smarter than all of you and I have to rub it on your faces at every turn. If that’s supposed to portray Langdon-as-he-grows-older, well, I’m not sure I want to read any more Robert Langdon adventures.