Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown has a successful formula: he takes subjects that have intense followers and speculates on their secrets in his fiction.  The Catholic Church, Christianity and Freemasonry have been subjected to his imagination. 

Normally, readers can be distracted from the story by the a cadre of detractors publishing shelves and shelves of tomes "debunking" his stories.  Thankfully, The Lost Symbol has bypassed that rite of passage, with little response from the Masons and gentle mocking of Brown's creative use of D.C. geography and landmarks.

Brown has a very successful formula that works like gangbusters for him.  I loved it the first time I read it in The DaVinci Code.  It was similar, and similarly successful, in Angels and Demons.  I found it equally successful, and with a few new twists, in The Lost Symbol.

I strongly recommend not consuming too many Brown novels in a setting, as I did, or all you will see are the similarities. Brown makes everyone in his books brilliant, capable of whip-smart thinking under extreme pressure, beautiful, fit and rich.  Annoying.  Now, to be fair, the stories couldn't occur in any other setting, so I grudgingly give him a pass on that.

Beyond the similarities of character is the story structure.  There's a Antagonist, sometimes revealed only in shadow, who is The Secret Bad Guy Trying to Bring About Truth and Enlightenment.  There's Someone From The Inside the System, usually Someone With Authority or Peacekeeping Capabilities, working with The Bad Guy, because s/he Has Information.  There is a Timetable, so the clock is ticking down to ratchet up the tension. There are Surprises as People Change.  Plus, plenty of Plot Complications and Story Twists.

The Lost Symbol has it all, only in Washington, D.C., a rather under-appreciated federal city carved out a bog.

And it's a fun romp.  It starts out a little slow, and the bizarre Antagonist is hard to believe at first.  However, as the story progresses, one can believe exactly how he can seem believable — and it's because perfectly smart people do careless things.

Again, Brown educates us in ways that take us out of Harvard lecture halls — though, by now, Brown's readers may have little choice except to see Langdon as a likable but insufferable know-it-all.  (Being able to recall lectures that identify clues on disembodied human parts without losing his lunch?  Does Langdon wear a cape under his turtlenecks?)

There are a few great plot twists and surprises, which take this story out of the ordinary.

Alas, Brown should have been more tightly edited.  The last 50 pages felt gratuitous, taking the pace to a crawl so Brown could finish his Big Reveal by reiterating information so readers Wouldn't Miss It.

All in all, I found this an enjoyable read, and I recommend it.  However, consider choosing it as a library read until you decide if you'll want to re-read it.

This is a book on my Fill in the Gaps listClick here to find out more about the Fill in the Gaps program.

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