Chase through the
By Dan Brown Bantam Press, 480pp, $39.95 (HB)
DANTE, it would appear, is suddenly hot property. In the past few months we have seen the publication of a new Penguin Classics edition of his Inferno, together with Clive James’s more accessible but no less masterful translation of all three books of The Divine Comedy. Now comes Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, his fourth to feature renowned Harvard art historian and symbologist Robert Langdon.
Brown’s previous blockbuster The Da Vinci Code took Leonardo’s art and riddles as its wellspring but also its springboard, from which was launched a cryptic paper-chase and welter of conspiracy theories. Inferno does precisely the same, only with Dante’s great poem at its centre.
Critics have already blunted their knives in savaging it. Brown, for many, is the writer we love to hate. He has even had the chutzpah to appropriate Dante’s title.
But is Inferno all bad? Brown starts as he means to go on, with a twist. Langdon is in a hospital in Florence suffering amnesia after a bullet wound to the head. He is afflicted by nightmares and hallucinations that offer fragments of clarity, but is thoroughly in the dark as to the strange artefact he finds sewn into his jacket.
Before he can make sense of it all there is a threat to his life, possibly orchestrated by the US government. Langdon is soon fleeing, accompanied by a pretty young doctor, Sienna Brooks. But, as ever, Langdon is not only pursued but in pursuit, this time of a killer virus designed to ‘‘ thin the human herd’’ of an overpopulated world.
Langdon’s treasure-hunt takes him to cathedrals and art galleries, through secret passages and caverns, from Florence to Venice to Istanbul. His next move is dictated by a cracked code or deciphered symbol. It helps that he has an eidetic memory and Brooks an ‘‘ off-the-chart IQ’’.
Brown pans out slowly, revealing only so