I had promised myself that I was never going to read anything by Dan Brown, but huge posters for this book followed me all over the United Kingdom last fall as Amy and I made our way across the country by train, looming out of bookstore windows in every town except Oxford, where the main bookstore chose to highlight Allan Hollinghurst instead. (I think Oxford feels that Dan Brown is a bit beneath them. I agree with them.)
I’ll give Brown credit for one thing and one thing only. He knows how to keep a reader turning pages. He doesn’t do this by creating memorable characters, ones that you care about, or by writing in a compelling style, but by the simple trick of withholding information. From the beginning he makes it clear what that information will be about. It’s such a large, audacious and frankly ridiculous subject that he’s withholding information on that I kept reading just to see if, when it was eventually revealed, the revelation would be worth the buildup.
It wasn’t. It didn’t even come close. The whole premise seemed absurd throughout — at times, even Brown’s characters had to admit it was absurd — and at the end it turns out to have been a grand fake-out, a huge Maguffin that exists only to justify a mediocre chase thriller. (Another thing I’ll give Brown credit for is that he knows it’s important to keep putting obstacles in the path of the protagonist, even when those obstacles are rabbits that he pulls out of his threadbare but bottomless hat. It’s surprising how many authors don’t realize you need to do this, at least when you’re writing this kind of thriller.)
But at least I can say I’ve read a Dan Brown novel. It’s not much to brag about, but the next time I say something insulting about Mr. Brown, I’ll have evidence to back me up.