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Inferno - Dan Brown I think it was back in ought-three when I picked up Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, eager because of the interesting premise and, having read it, put it down decidedly unimpressed. Brown fell off my reading radar, but ten years later I see a notice for his new Inferno, so I figure, what the hell? (get it? hell, inferno…nevermind…) Picked it up at the library, read it and realized there is a reason why Brown fell off my radar. Dan Brown seems to have made a great career of turning intriguing ideas into crappy novels.

This one begins with a dream sequence, which is enough for me to put it away right there. Robert Langdon, famed professor of art history and "symbology," wakes up in a hospital room in Florence, Italy with a gunshot wound and amnesia. He has no idea about how he got into this mess, but doesn't have time to ponder on it because an assassin is on her way to plug him right there in the hospital room. With the aid of a beautiful super-genius (with an IQ of 208!) named Dr. Sienna Brooks, Langdon flees the hospital and goes on the run, determined to figure out what's going on. His only clue is a curious device that had been sewn into the lining of his jacket, a device that leads him investigate Dante Alighieri's classic vision of Hell--The Divine Comedy-- to solve this mystery. But Langdon discovers more than just the hells in Dante's cantos--what he uncovers threatens to bring hell on earth!

As I mentioned before, Dan Brown has some intriguing ideas. Dante, Tranhumanism, global pandemics, genetic engineering, overpopulation; yeah, I'd read a book about that. The problem is that there are just a lot of dumb things going on, like the disguises he and Sienna Brooks use to escape (turns out, Sienna is bald and wears a wig. She gives her wig to Langdon and, voila--instant punk girl and aging rocker), Langdon's uncanny ability to solicit help from complete strangers (Langdon borrows an old lady's iPhone--she is only too happy to help and, apparently, risk it getting stolen; another time Langdon asks a guy for an emergency ride. After staring into Langdon's eyes "as if searching his soul," the guy acquiesces and they hop in his Bentley!, and just plain ridiculous stuff. And the Main Dumb Thing about the story is all that stuff about Dante's Divine Comedy is basically just a big Macguffin; the whole deal just exists to have Langdon running around Italy searching for clues.

It doesn't help that Brown just isn't a very good writer. To be fair, he gets the job done, but some things irritate the heck out of me. For one, the chapters are ultra-short (there are 104 of them!).  I suspect the point is to facilitate easy pick-up reading, but also, maybe so he can insert a chapter here and there to pad the book out (it's 461 pages; about 200 too long, I'd say). Another thing, Brown luuuvs to get inside the minds of his characters by having them say the most useless, obvious stuff to themselves internally, like this (random examples):

Langdon is still in play!

What the hell is going on here?

We're trapped!

That seems to happen almost every other paragraph and most of the time it doesn't add anything that the reader doesn't already know by following what's going on anyway. Add to these the long and frequent asides explaining some part of history or describing some classic piece of art, whether pertinent or not, and you have one seriously padded out novel.

But I don't intend here to just trash Dan Brown. After all, he's made a ton of cash from his novels, and I can't blame him for that. Inferno itself is not throw-against-the-wall awful and there is some entertainment value there. The thing that bugs me is the pretense that it is something that it's not, ie. an intelligent novel vs. trash fiction. Brown is not any more adept at research than any grad student (and probably worse. Check out this article for some fun: Fact-checking Dan Brown's Inferno) and seems to lord over history and literature like his readers are idiots, like no one has ever read The Divine Comedy except for Harvard "symbologists" and that it's some sort of esoteric thing. 

Read Inferno at the airport or at the beach and enjoy it. Just don't confuse it with anything good or halfway intelligent. It's a made-for-TV movie wearing Harris tweed and cordovan loafers.