It’s been a few years since Dan Brown dropped a new book on us, so I was initially shocked when I walked past Waterstones and discovered The Lost Symbol. Of course, in the intervening years, Brown’s “Indiana Jones of Symbology” – Robert Langdon – has become a major movie franchise, so naturally Langdon is the hero of this novel too.
Having just re-read Angels And Demons (my favourite of the Dan Brown novels), I was ready for another fix of Langdon and the unraveling of ancient history and secret sects.
Surprisingly, the story takes place on American soil, in the nation’s capital, Washington DC. Langdon is invited to give a talk by old friend and mentor Peter Solomon, a high ranking Mason, wealthy heir and all round nice guy. Of course, when Langdon arrives in DC, he discovers the whole thing was an elaborate trick and that some maniac has hacked Solomon’s hand off and left it as a symbol which Langdon must decode.
From there, the reader is trailed along on a symbol chasing adventure across Washington as Langdon frantically tries to decode symbols in order to save Peter Solomon’s life. All the Brown hallmarks are in there – dubious officials in the guise of CIA Director Sato, family secrets and tragedy, cutting-edge science and some seriously disturbing cultist behaviour. And of course there’s the mysterious gold capstone which reveals a myriad of seemingly conflicting symbols. Except to me they look like someone went a bit nutty with the Wingdings font on their computer…
OK, from hereon my review becomes kind of spoilery. Having finished Angels And Demons, I had a profound respect for the way in which Brown will weave historical facts into his stories, often causing the reader to rethink their preconceptions (mostly about religion).
He manages to repeat that task here, taking the field of Noetics and merging it with the claim that the founding fathers of America believed in the godlike qualities in man and the almost infinite possibilities for human advancement. It’s an intriguing subject, and you do walk away from the novel wanting to know more about Noetic science.
On the other hand, if you thought Langdon getting blown up over the Vatican was a preposterous storyline, The Lost Symbol does tend to verge on the ludicrous. For a start, the demented Mal’ach was clearly Peter Solomon’s estranged and long-dead son. Hell bent on revenge, the wayward Solomon heir became a complete extremist fruitcake.
Not only was it obvious that Mal’ach was Zachary Solomon, Brown went to amazing lengths to try and obfuscate this by giving him not one, but three personality transitions. Why? For the entirity of the book, I was absorbed in trying to work out the link between Zachary and Mal’ach. There was no doubt in my mind they were the same person.
Taking it a step further, when the big reveal happened, and Mal’ach got sliced into little pieces, Peter Solomon showed little to no emotion. In fact, not long after this he was explaining the rest of the Masonic secret to Langdon. And while we’re at it, Katherine Solomon didn’t seem to be fazed that her nephew had gunned down her mother over a secret her brother was keeping for the Masons. She instead of being angry at her brother and appalled at the horror of the situation, watched the sun rise over Washington with Robert Langdon. What an emotionally detatched, messed up family.
Of course, the had to be some degree of mortal peril for our hero, Mr Langdon, a walking advertisement for Harris Tweed and virtually indestructable professor of Symbology. Instead of getting blown across Rome by exploding anti-matter, the hideous freak that is Mal’ach drowns him in a perspex coffin. “Brilliant”, I thought, “what a brave move to kill off his hero…” Then I thought about the lucrative film franchise and realised it wasn’t over ’til the tattooed madman met a horrible death. And sure enough, a handful of chapters later, Robert Langdon was spluttering back to life after discovering he was ‘drowned’ in breathable liquid.
Aside from a few criticisms, I found Brown did a brilliant job of blending in the Masonic heritage and some interesting scientific notions about the power of the human mind. I just felt that the story around it all wasn’t quite as successful as Brown has been in the past. It all seemed a little desperate for bigger thrills. And to be honest, I was hoping that he’d opt to have a different hero than Langdon as he had in earlier novels.
Still, a good novel and a worthwhile read. And for once, I went and looked up a piece of artwork described in the book – The Apotheosis Of George Washington: