Regular readers will know that I rarely post negative reviews—but this book deserves it.
First, let me separate out what there is to like about it from the many things that drove me nuts:
The art history and tour of Florence is first class. If you’re planning a vacation to Italy and you don’t like reading dry tour brochures, read this. It’s a dry travel brochure with a plot. And it’s a fun way to learn about mildly interesting obscure paintings, mediaeval symbolism, and bits about ancient architecture.
My rant? Doubleday doesn’t have a single editor with the balls to tell the great and powerful Mr. Brown that his writing has deteriorated from the passable but high-concept Da Vinci Code? Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest, um, writer?*
What did the publisher miss when not-editing their writer?
- The Editing. While Mr. Brown is not a bad writer, but even a fresh-out-of-college editor might have pointed out the many duplicate expository dumps. He doesn’t tell us about the private walkway Medici built over the marketplace just once—he tells us twice. In detail. What does the walkway have to do with the plot? Nothing. He also tells us the train from Florence to Venice takes two hours. Not once, not twice, but three times. Why? No reason. Thought you wanted to know.** I didn’t bother to count all art works, buildings, basins, windows, doors, and sunbrellas he described in intricate detail that also had nothing to do with the story, but they were plentiful.
- The Cliches. I swear to god, he used the worst cliché in thrillerdom, “then all hell broke loose”. Maybe he did it as a joke. The speaker attributes are ridiculous, “So you shot me in the head,” he replied angrily. No! He was angry about being shot in the head? Shocking. There are too many more to cite. I’ll spare you.
- The Clues. It’s one thing to obscure a clue but quite another to purposely mislead the reader. When you finally untangle why you thought Bad Guy A was working for Mastermind B when he was really working for Good Guy C, you’ll feel the same thing I did: tricked. There are several ‘plot twists’ that are poorly framed gimmicks. It’s not clever, it’s cheap. Usually, tricks are the result of a rushed manuscript, but they can also come from the editor sleeping through the early drafts.
- The Plot. Unless you believe an evil mastermind will leave a trail of breadcrumbs that will undo his life’s work, this book is bound to disappoint. Real bad guys think they’re smarter than everyone else and like to brag. But brag by forging an obscure work of art based on Dante’s outdated version of hell that relies on clues left in other even more obscure works of art? This evil mastermind had a lot of time on his hands considering he was forcing changes in human DNA and exploiting viral technology in his spare time.
- The Writing. Here you will find so many annoying habits you’ll want to toss the book. (Why did I keep going? My wife loved it.) Mr. Brown drives his story with one expository dump after another, each followed by an explanation, followed by additional buttressing. It’s the moral equivalent of writing a thesis to explain why the chicken crossed the road.
Dan Brown must think we’re really stupid.
Maybe Doubleday thinks we’ll buy anything.
The Da Vinci Code had average writing and had an exceptional concept that drove the story through many short comings. The Lost Symbol had a weak plot and poor writing. But this one is terrible.
Bottom line: Don’t bother unless you’re into travelogues.
* For you unwashed masses, that’s what Henry II said referring to Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Let’s not take it as far as Henry’s knights.
** According to Google, that’s only possible on the 9:19AM train. Care to guess what time they caught it? Yeah. I only looked it up after the third mention.