I was expecting it to be worse. (The review that is)
Brown’s long occult-mystery novels, featuring the intrepid Dr. Robert Langdon, a tenured Harvard professor of something called symbology—a field unknown to both Harvard and spell-check (try it)—are the welcome if improbable million-and-beyond best-sellers of our time, with the latest episode, “The Lost Symbol,” now upon us. The new book is, as every speed-reading reviewer has noted, the same package as before—the wise if wooden professor, the cagey babe-scientist, the oft-naked assassin, and the ancient conspiracy newly brought to life in familiar tourist destinations, this time in Washington, D.C., rather than Paris, and turning on elusive Masonic mystics, rather than secretive Merovingian dynasts. But what, exactly, is inside the package? What spell does it cast and how does it cast it? Books are not so widely read without a reason. Surely future historians will look to Brown as an index of What We Were Really Thinking, and, turning the dense and loaded pages of his books, they may well ask, This they read for fun?
It’s easy to pastiche Brown’s prose, with its infectious italics (“What the hell is going on?!”) and its action-prodding, single-sentence paragraphs. (“Langdon stared in horror.”) The clichés line up outside the dust jacket and are whisked in pairs to a table down front: “In the heat of the moment, Capitol police officer Nuñez had seen no option but to help the Capitol Architect and Robert Langdon escape. Now, however, back in the basement police headquarters, Nuñez could see the storm clouds gathering fast.” Add Brown’s habit of inventing where no invention is needed—there are no departments of “symbology,” but there are departments of semiotics, where Langdon would fit right in—and you have a surface less commercially calculated than genuinely eccentric.