Dan Brown literary efforts have annoyed a lot of people over the years – historians, Catholics, academics, book critics, conspiracy theorists, the list is endless.
So you’d expect his latest novel, Inferno, to come in for a fair amount of flak, especially in light of the threatening legal non-disclosure agreements the critics had to sign before they were allowed to read it.
The critics don’t disappoint; they’ve come out swinging, but their blows are tempered by the fact they rather enjoyed the book.
Inferno sees symboligist Robert Langdon once again sucked into a world-shattering conspiracy based on a Renaissance work of art, this time Dante’s Inferno.
Langdon is in Florence, Dante’s birthplace, where an evil bioterrorist has scattered various clues to his nefarious plot in the form of allusions to Dante’s vision of hell.
His sidekick for his wild goose chase around tourist hotspots is a sexy, blonde doctor who has a huge IQ – 208 – while a shadowy multinational tries to muscle in on the action for sinister reasons of its own.
So what do the critics make of it
Steven Poole, from The Guardian, says fans of Brown’s unique prose style won’t be disappointed – “a powerfully built woman effortlessly unstraddled her BMW motorcycle”, is one of the examples he gives – but praises the story’s heady mix of high culture and low thrills.
“The pages fly by. Only lunatics would begrudge the blockbusting bard’s determination to popularise great Italian poetry.”
Janet Maslin, in the New York Times, says “early sections of Inferno come so close to self-parody that Mr Brown seems to have lost his bearings”.
“As is his wont, Mr Brown begins with a crazily grandiose prologue, this one a little more unhinged than usual.”
But she concedes the whole endeavour is saved by Brown’s “sense of play”, “nifty tricks”, “prodigious research and love of trivia”.
Boyd Tonkin, in The Independent, says Brown has craftily “taken off the shelf one of the dustiest tropes in the Science Fiction canon. Brilliant mad scientist concocts a deadly artificial plague and prepares to unleash it on the world in a second Black Death… Can Brown re-engineer these over-familiar devices of outbreak, pestilence and contagion into a viable organism However clunkily, he can.”
Writing in the UK Telegraph, Jake Kerridge praises Brown for showing ambition but then sticks the knife in.
“As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor. His prose, for all its detailing of brand names and the exact heights of buildings, is characterised by imprecision. It works to prevent the reader from engaging with the story.
“This mattered less in his previous novels, but with Inferno I sense for the first time that Brown is aiming at a tauter, better book, one more interested in the real world, longing to escape from the prison of his pleonasm.
“But in the end this is his worst book, and for a sad, even noble, reason – his ambition here wildly exceeds his ability.”
Inferno by Dan Brown is out now.