Chase through the

In­ferno

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mal­colm Forbes

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

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