Dan Brown's Inferno

When The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, it became one of the biggest blockbuster novels ever written. Since then, Dan Brown has faced the Herculean task of having to equal that success. The 2009 Lost Symbol (see my blog post on it), although selling extremely well, came nowhere close to its predecessor. And according to Publisher’s Weekly, Inferno’s debut was, in turn, less successful than The Lost Symbol. But because Inferno is a Dan Brown novel, it still did very well. Doubleday reported that in the first five days, it sold more than a million copies.

The story begins with the Harvard professor and symbologist, Robert Langdon, awakening in a hospital with amnesia. He has no idea how he got there, what country he is in, why he is having hallucinatory dreams, or, most importantly, why an assassin has walked into his hospital room and tries to shoot him. He escapes from the shooter by escaping with a young doctor. Langdon spends the rest of his time fleeing from unknown enemies and trying to figure out why he is carrying a suspected biological weapon. Surprises, plot twists, ciphers, and cryptograms dominate the narrative.

Janet Maslin (2013) points out that
there is even a twist built into its 14/5/13 publication date, a numerical anagram of the 3.1415, the approximate value of pi. Why? Because Dante divided hell into circles. Because pi is a hint about measuring them. And because Mr. Brown’s readership has never met an embedded secret it didn’t like.
Inferno is a curious combination of thriller, travel guide, and non-fiction. The novel provides copious amounts of information on Italy, art history, the Renaissance, and of course, Dante’s Inferno.

If you like books that are part mystery and part nonfiction, you will love the novel. But Inferno does not incorporate the fictional and nonfictional sides of the book quite as seamlessly as does his previous two novels. Lengthy descriptions of art history and Italian cities seem strangely out of place in the James-Bond-like, chase-dominated plot sequences. The Washington Post observes, “the book’s musty passageways seem to be not so much holding history up as sagging under its weight. Narration appears lifted from a Fodor’s guide. . .”

If you enjoy what Maslin (2013) calls Brown’s “breakneck, brain-teasing capers,” and if you would like to know more about Florence, Venice, Renaissance art, and Dante’s work, Inferno will exceed your expectations.

Brown, Dan. Inferno. New York: Doubleday, 2013.

Maslin, Janet. “On a Scavenger Hunt to Save Most Humans.” The New York Times. May 12, 2013.