Reviewed by Jeff Baker
Does this sound familiar?
World-renowned symbologist and all-around cool guy Robert Langdon is summoned to an Imposing Architectural Landmark, where something Really Yucky has been left in a way only he can recognize. You know, as a clue. Langdon snaps into action, and it isn't long before he's uncovered more clues that lead to a Secret Society full of Famous Dead Guys. There's a Super-Duper Secret, and the fate of the universe is at stake, but thank goodness Langdon has help from a Foxy Brainiac, which he needs because he's up against a Major Freak. Langdon and the Foxy Brainiac race through more Imposing Architectural Landmarks, pausing only to lecture each other about symbols and whatnot, and try to win a Race Against Time against the Major Freak.
That's the plot of Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol. It's also the plot of his last novel, a little number called The Da Vinci Code. It's also, more or less, the plot of the novel before that, Angels & Demons.
Now lots of people have had lots to say about The Da Vinci Code since it was published in 2003. Brown, to his great credit, has not been one of them. He's kept his head down, showing up in public only when he gets sued, and letting others blather on about the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion and whatever else fills their conspiracy-minded heads. The pressure on him to follow up one of the most popular novels of all time must have been intense, something only J.K. Rowling can relate to.
But given all that, and with the world watching, it comes as no surprise to report that Brown has written THE SAME BOOK. The Lost Symbol might as well be called "The Da Vinci Code Goes to Washington." Same wooden dialogue, same breathless pacing, same cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, same endless mumbo-jumbo about codes and keys and other secret stuff Brown researched and just had to share.
There are differences. The setting has shifted to Washington, D.C., which Langdon assures his students "has some of the world's finest architecture, art and symbolism." (The Washington Monument? Now there's a symbol!) The Imposing Architectural Landmark is the National Statuary Hall, which Langdon considers "the best room in all of D.C." (Italics are some of Brown's best friends.) The Really Yucky item: a severed hand. The Secret Society is the Freemasons (Famous Dead Guys: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Burl Ives). The Foxy Brainiac is Katherine Solomon, and Brown assures his readers that "even at fifty years old she had a smooth olive complexion." She's the world's leading authority on noetics -- "science so advanced that it no longer even resembled science."
The Super-Duper Secret would take too long to explain, but the Major Freak really, really wants it. His name is Mal'akh -- his friends call him "Mal" -- and he's got tattoos everywhere except the top of his shaved skull, so you know he's a freak. He's one step ahead of Langdon and Katherine, until....
Look, lots of people write the same book over and over, and lots of people read them. Brown is nothing more than John Grisham with a pseudoscience-conspiracy gloss. Eighty million readers can't be wrong, but the thing to keep in mind while reading The Lost Symbol is (1) There's a lot of weird stuff on the $1 bill. (2) That's no reason to make two lousy Nicolas Cage movies.
Books mentioned in this post