I have finally gotten up my nerve and started reading a Dan Brown novel. I’m 40 pages into Inferno, and I haven’t thrown the book across the room yet. So that’s good.
On the plus side, Brown clearly knows how to write a plot-driven thriller. The action is standard superhero stuff, involving amnesia and a nameless villain and a shadowy organization known only as The Consortium, but it’s not so ridiculous that I don’t want to find out what’s going on. And his style is OK: he still has to tell us the exact size of Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, but the “index-card” writing isn’t as blatant as in the sample chapter I read of one of his earlier books.
On the minus side, the one thing I know something about so far, Brown didn’t get right. And that makes me wary about Brown’s mastery of detail. He has his Harvard professor hero, Robert Langton, wake up in a hospital with amnesia. The doctor asks him where he thinks he is. The last thing he can remember is walking across the Harvard campus, so he guesses: “Massachusetts General Hospital?” There are two things wrong with that answer. First, if you’re from around here, you’d simply say “Mass General.” No one says “Massachusetts General Hospital.” Second, he’d know if he had a medical problem at Harvard he’d end up at Mount Auburn Hospital, just down the road in Cambridge. But of course that’s a much less interesting answer than the world-famous hospital a few miles further away.
And then there is the doctor. OK, she’s beautiful, and also lissome (which is a dopey word), and she drops everything to save Langton’s life when the spiky-haired female assassin (who was probably also lissome) starts shooting the place up. That’s pretty standard. But does she also have to have an IQ of 208? Did she also have to play Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of five? Realism clearly isn’t what Brown is after here (although he index-cards a couple of real child prodigies that Langton happens to know about). At that point you have to decide you’re just going to go with the flow. Or you throw the book across the room.