Book Quote:

“It really hasn’t dawned on you yet, has it? Why you were chosen?”
“No,” Langdon said.
“It will,” he replied, chuckling. “Any moment now.”
Then the line went dead.
Langdon stood rigid for several terrifying moments, trying to process what had just happened.
Suddenly, in the distance, he heard an unexpected sound.
It was coming from the Rotunda.
Someone was screaming.

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (SEP 21, 2009)

The movie, National Treasure, enjoyed healthy box office numbers in part because of Dan Brown’s humongous hit of a novel, The Da Vinci Code. Instead of mining clues from symbols in architecture and secretive organizations throughout Europe, it zeroed in on Washington D.C. and its Freemason founders. Now, Dan Brown has ironically chosen the same location and the same Masonic brotherhood as the basis for his new Robert Langdon thriller, The Lost Symbol.

National Treasure, many argued, was a rung or two below The Da Vinci Code in terms of plot and general implementation of its idea. How then does The Lost Symbol measure up to The Da Vinci Code? Well, this reviewer would say that lightning did not strike twice. This novel doesn’t cohere as naturally as did The Da Vinci Code. In fact, at times The Lost Symbol gives the impression of being a bowl into which interesting but not necessarily connected research was tossed together and not evenly mixed. Nevertheless, Brown’s latest Langdon installment (for which we’ve waited six years) packs enough of his trademark suspense, chilling violence, and brainteasing puzzles for fans to snap it up and devour it as fast as possible.

As the novel opens, symbologist Robert Langdon is making his way to the U.S. Capitol Building to deliver an address. He was called to substitute at the last minute by the personal assistant of a friend and mentor, the very wealthy Peter Solomon, who also happens to be a thirty-third degree Mason. Rushing there late, Langdon discovers he’s been duped: “No chairs. No audience. No Peter Solomon. Just a handful of tourists milling around aimlessly, oblivious to Langdon’s grand entrance.” Bewildered, he calls back Solomon’s number. The assistant answers. He ominously tells Langdon, ” ‘I’m afraid Peter Solomon has no idea you’re in Washington today.’ ” He continues, “You are here, Mr. Langdon, because I want you here.”

From then on, Langdon is propelled into a nightmarish scenario. The “assistant” — who is no such thing — has kidnapped Peter and apparently squeezed (i.e., tortured) every bit of information he could from him concerning the whereabouts of a mysterious ancient portal that a redacted official document claims is somewhere in Washington D.C. The kidnapper believes if he finds this portal and can access it he will learn the secret of life and death kept under wraps by but passed down through the most elite of Masonic leaders. But Peter did not yield everything this crazy man needs to find the portal. So, he orders Langdon to find and decipher the vital clues before the night is over, or Solomon will die.

There is another Solomon to be reckoned with: Katherine, Peter’s sister. She conducts noetic (consciousness) science research in a special, isolated lab in the Capitol, and her brother’s kidnapper, who has committed crimes against the Solomon family before, is on a mission to retrieve her and use her as leverage against her brother and Langdon — if he doesn’t just kill her first.

In the next mad hours, the zealot kidnapper, Langdon, the CIA, the Solomons, the Capitol Architect, and various other players dash around D.C., and in particular, in, around, and under some of our national architectural treasures, seeking to meet, apprehend, or evade one another. Langdon and Katherine are focused on saving Peter. The government is focused on saving prominent in-power politicians from exposure as high-ranking Masons. And the kidnapper — a man known as Mal’akh, with tattoos over nearly his entire body — is utterly convinced he can gain freedom though a ritual death if he ensures the death is perpetrated in the sacred, secret location he needs Langdon to pinpoint for him. He will stop at nothing to ensure this.

Now, to move from the plot introduction to discussion on other planes. As touched upon above, Brown’s new novel isn’t without deficiencies. Here are a few specific examples of why The Lost Symbol doesn’t quite live up to its wildly best-selling predecessor:

The Da Vinci Code revolved around a mystery that became very human (literally). The Lost Symbol doesn’t quite go the same distance. Although there is undeniable human drama for Robert Langdon and his friends, Katherine and Peter, its core mystery (no spoiler here) remains more esoteric and more cerebral. This wouldn’t necessarily be a demerit, but somehow Brown’s eagerness to fashion a mystery around the Capitol’s architecture and the supposed foundations of Masonic beliefs, together with oddly half-hearted or incomplete inclusions of noetic studies, near death experiences, and other “potpourri” of ingredients doesn’t quite gel as successfully as his dazzling — though not without much-bandied-about flaws — fictional tale of searching for the Holy Grail. Possibly, “unmasking” Masonry and some of its macabre initiations can’t push the same buttons as turning Christianity on its head.

Brown also errs in The Lost Symbol by intimating the possible onset of a huge catastrophe if Langdon and others cannot stop Mal’akh’s fiendish timetable and plans. The build-up suggests something truly earthshaking, but the revelation of the actual consequences turns out to be disappointingly anticlimactic.

And then there is Mal’akh, whose names are actually many. Unfortunately, he is such a psycho that even the gradual unveiling of his background and his motives can’t alter his “plot point” status; he is too much of a raging bull of malevolence to be seen as a human being worthy of empathy. There are a couple brief glimmers where one almost feels for him, but the windows of opportunity are so tiny that the desire to do so passes very quickly.

Also, as usual, Brown infuses his fast-paced novel with twists and turns, but most can be predicted by the reader in advance. Perhaps Brown intentionally structures his books thusly to make the readers feel smarter than hero Langdon. If so, this tactic is a double-edged sword because readers can judge the plot as too obvious and beset with some howling instances of foreshadowing.

Interestingly, Langdon, in The Lost Symbol, is often in the role of student rather than teacher. He does, assuredly, tap his vast knowledge of symbols at crucial times, but he, not being a Mason, more often than not, accedes to others with more intimate understanding. In short, he appears more diffident, more secondary, in this novel than in The Da Vinci Code. Brown also dials back the number and intricacy of the puzzles in this book, which also contributes to Langdon having less to do.

Allegedly, some folks believed that The Da Vinci Code was — despite its definitive claim to the contrary — nonfiction. The Lost Symbol clearly states, before the story opens, on which basic facts Brown built to get this novel off the ground, but just as clearly the novel is just that, a novel. Due, however, to its subject matter (Masonry,etc.), fewer people will probably wonder (or care?) whether this thriller actually does reveal real secrets than did when they kept the previous blockbuster at #1 on the bestseller list for a record-breaking stretch.

This novel is certainly signature Brown entertainment even if it doesn’t cohere as naturally as did The Da Vinci Code. If you are curious to find out what kind of hot water Robert Langdon has gotten himself into this time (however involuntarily!) and how he might get himself out, buy, borrow, or find a copy of The Lost Symbol and decide for yourself what you think about it.

And when The Lost Symbol comes out as a film, we can all compare it, apples to apples as it were, to National Treasure as well.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 3,210 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday Books; 1st edition (September 15, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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September 21, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Posted in: Thriller/Spy/Caper, Washington, D.C.

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