Hmmm, as usual I’m somewhat hesitant before giving something a bad review, so I’m going to preface this review by saying two things
(1) I don’t think there’s a single Dan Brown book I haven’t read and I have enjoyed to some degree or other most of them.
(2) I totally do not think that every book on the market has to be ‘high brow’ and there is a place for good escapist, entertaining fiction.
And now I’m going to refute those two points in the case of Inferno, Dan Brown’s latest.
Inferno is another Robert Langdon story / this time advertorial for Florence and Venice. Langdon wakes up in a hospital room with a head injury and amnesia, when he realises that he’s totally not in the country he thought he should be in and that people with guns are after him, he flees across Florence with the ‘attractive’ doctor Sienna Brooks. Cue bug point 1, why, when you wake up in a strange hospital bed and shortly afterwards are fleeing for your life, do you even have time to notice how attractive the person you’re fleeing with is? That became a regular reoccurring thought as I read Inferno, ‘they’re fleeing for their lives / on an extremely vital hunt, why are they spending even a nano second sizing up whether if they could they would?’. It was particularly annoying when every character who met Sienna thinks she’s attractive, it later becomes obvious that this is a device to highlight a change in Sienna later on in the story, but talk about pushing your point a little too far Brown.
Bug point number 2 is on a similar vein to bug point number 1, in that they’re fleeing for their lives / on a vital hunt and yet Langdon has time to lapse into frequent deep internal soliloquies about art, architecture and history. It even gets to a laughable point where several times Sienna is almost literally waving at Langdon going “helllllloooo” as it’s obvious Langdon has drifted off somewhere completely different. I did find the art, architecture and history stuff interesting; I’ve only been to Florence very briefly, I know Venice a lot better, but I feel like Brown’s just given me a good tour round but at the massive expense of pacing, this book after all is meant to be a thriller.
Bug point 3; again related to Brown pushing the point a bit too much, yes we know Langdon is claustrophobic. Brown pushed this point so much I’d have put money on there being a scene in the finale where Langdon has no choice but to go into a very enclosed space, it didn’t happen, which now makes me think that must have been a cut scene, otherwise why was Langdon overemphasising the claustrophobia?
Bug point 4; the plot twists, about two thirds of the way through the book everything changes as the real allegiances of the cast of characters becomes apparent, now I like a good plot twist as much as anyone but most of the twists in Inferno seemed incredibly forced, there was only one twist which made me go “oooh!” instead of “ugh?’.
Bug point 5 (this one not really Brown’s fault); as Langdon and crew hone in on what they were looking for, they have a clue in a video that the villain wants to release to the world, this gives Langdon an indication of the sort of place they’re looking for. The description of the place from the video really reminded me of somewhere I’d been on holiday, so whenever I imagined those scenes I couldn’t help transplant my memories of that place with the description of the place on the video. I didn’t think it was the actual place, then guess what, it did turn out to be the actual place. Made me wish I could have transplanted myself into the story and gone “You know it really looks like x” and then that would have shortened the story by a good third and it would have done everyone a favour.
Bug point 6; the science, there’s a good bit of population theory, genetics and stuff about the plague, I have a background in biology; microbiology and genetics to be precise and most of the stuff rung true (although the population stuff was on the alarmist side, in my opinion I don’t think over population could cause an extinction event for the human race but I do think it could cause the population to decrease what with increased disease due to over crowding and antibiotic resistance, resource shortages, wars over resources and increased climate change events) but what really bugged me was the scene towards the end of the book with the PCR machines. Now yes it has been a good 9 years since I last used one and the rate of progress in genetics is fast but even taking that into account, I don’t think they quite do what they did in the book yet and even if they do do what they did in the book (sorry for being vague, trying to keep spoilers to vague setting), what they discovered, so what, there is what they discovered everywhere anyway, the result didn’t mean anything (sorry that last sentence only means anything to someone who’s read the book). In fairness to Brown I think he may have been shortening the science to provide a spot of dramatic tension but still.
Bug point 8; the end of the book was incredibly preachy, Brown is obviously a bit concerned about over population and advances in genetics.
So in summary, am I going to automatically go and buy the next Dan Brown book, as I’ve done for every Brown book for years? No, Inferno has cured me of that habit.
** (out of 5)