Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finally, Dan Brown writes about something I'm interested in!

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

For years I was Dan Brown's fan, his only one. I have a first edition hardback of Angels & Demons. And when I had a whole stack of galleys of The Da Vinci Code six months before publication I couldn't give them away. Well, what a difference the better part of a decade makes. While I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, I didn't enjoy the endless over-the-top hype of the novel and the zillions of Da Vinci clones. Enough already. And, truthfully, Brown's religious subject matter really didn't interest me. So, I can't say that I've been particularly excited about the publication of The Lost Symbol.

Yeah, I bought it the day it went on sale, but I was at home sick as a dog with the flu. The price was right on Kindle, as was the convenience factor, and I was hoping to have the machine read to me as I wasn't quite well enough to tackle the task for myself. Therefore, I was disappointed after purchase to see the read aloud feature disabled for this novel. Boo hiss, Doubleday. Anyway, I eventually got healthier and began to read again and discovered that Dan Brown has finally tackled a subject of real interest to me--my hometown, Washington, DC.

As the novel opens, Robert Langdon is literally jetting to DC to give an important speech as a favor to a dear friend. Rushing to his destination in the US capitol, Langdon discovers the circumstances of his visit to DC are not what he was led to believe. Soon, he's embroiled in another elaborate, puzzle-filled, life-threatening hunt through the nation's capitol. He's dodging the CIA, while unraveling arcane Masonic clues, and sparring with a mad man. In other words, pretty much what you'd expect from Dan Brown.

For me, personally, the symbolic tour of Washington, DC was a true joy. And the ties to the Smithsonian Institution, where I once worked, were an added bonus. These plot elements had me happily flipping electronic pages all through the first half of this lengthy novel. I was enjoying The Lost Symbol significantly more than I had expected. However, the deeper I got into the novel, the less fresh it felt.

First, there is the villain, Mal'akh, or whatever he wants to call himself. It doesn't take the reader long to realize the guy is a complete and total nut job. And once you get past the more lurid aspects of his character and story, it gets kind of old. How much crazy do you have to read before it get boring and repetitive. He's nuts. We know it. Move on.

Second, Brown again falls back on all his favorite plot devices. Tricks like referring to characters without using their name, so as to obscure identity as long as possible. Or having characters have major information that is hidden from the reader. These things are tricks. They're used in a heavy-handed manner. And, again, it all just begins to feel manipulative and old. Plus, the revelations when they finally, finally come just aren't that exciting.

Third, there are plot elements that were supposed to be huge surprises that were just so obvious to me. I'm not saying that every single reader will pick up on the stuff that I did, but they might have clued into something else. I'd be surprised if they didn't.

So, a mixed reaction from me. I really enjoy Robert Langdon's lectures. I think the symbology is genuinely interesting. Having so much of it revolve around a location I'm intimately familiar with was a special treat for me. There were a lot of plot elements that were just a lot of fun, and on one level this is a light, entertaining read. The second half of the book didn't work as well for me. I think Brown returned to his bag of tricks too often and ultimately revelations disappointed. For a less critical reader simply looking for a page-turner, you could do worse.
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