In Depth

Dan Brown’s books ranked best to worst

The thriller novelist behind The Da Vinci Code and Origin turns 54 today

American thriller novelist Dan Brown turns 54 today.

Although not always finding favour with critics, his books have sold hundreds of millions of copies and Hollywood adaptations have been made of his works.

Here are his seven major novels ranked from best to worst: 

1. The Da Vinci Code, 2003

Described by The Guardian as “ludicrous but gripping”, Brown’s Magnum Opus The Da Vinci Code needs little introduction.

This thriller - later auctioned into a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film treatment - focuses on Robert Langdon, a Harvard University professor of symbology, who is in Paris on a speaking engagement when he is woken in the middle of the night by the French police and implicated in the murder of the Louvre Museum curator.

With help from a French cryptographer, Sophie Neveau, who takes his side, he manages to escape and together they embark on a quest to find the real killer.

“Brown sometimes ladles out too much religious history at the expense of pacing, and Langdon is a hero in desperate need of more chutzpah,” Publishers Weekly writes. “Still, Brown has assembled a whopper of a plot that will please both conspiracy buffs and thriller addicts.”

2. Deception Point, 2001

This 2001 non-Langdon novel is one of Brown’s finest, breaking new ground and moving out of his comfort zone.

On the eve of a US presidential election, an incredible discovery looks set to change the entire political landscape as Nasa finds an enormous meteorite buried in the Milne glacier, high in the Arctic, containing fossils - proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

“Brown moves into new territory with his latest,” Publishers Weekly said at the time. “It's an excellent thriller - a big yet believable story unfolding at breakneck pace, with convincing settings and just the right blend of likable and hateful characters.

“He's also done his research, folding in sophisticated scientific and military details that make his plot far more fulfilling than the norm.”

3. Origin, 2017

A reliably Brown-esque addition to the Langdon series, Origin is the author’s most recent outing, having hit shelves in late 2017 to warm reviews.

In it, Langdon arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”, but guests are left reeling when the evening is blown apart before the discovery can be revealed.

The Guardian says that although Brown’s vocabulary in the novel is somewhat limited, this should not detract from the thrill of the read.

“Complaining that Brown can’t write is like complaining that crisps are crunchy. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter at all. The book is fun in its galumphing way,” the paper says.

“And the longer he keeps earnestly plugging away, the more the reader warms to him. There’s a winning innocence to Brown’s work, especially as rather than just produce a chase thriller with added sudoku, he is determined to take on the most fundamental issues of human existence.”

4. Angels and Demons, 2000

Published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster, Angels and Demons takes place chronologically before The Da Vinci Code, although it doesn't really matter which you read first, says Thought Co.

Both books revolve around conspiracies within the Catholic Church, but most of the action in Angels and Demons takes place in Rome and the Vatican. 

Opening with the murder of a physicist working for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Switzerland, an ambigram representing the word "Illuminati" has been branded onto the victim's chest.

In addition, the director of Cern soon learns that a canister filled with a type of matter that has the destructive power equal to a nuclear bomb has been stolen from Cern and hidden somewhere in the Holy See.

Angels and Demons, the prequel to Dan Brown's mega best seller, reigns supreme at airport bookstores,” writes Time Magazine. “It's not hard to see why: the plot, which focuses on an improbable attempt by the ancient order of the Illuminati to destroy the Vatican (using antimatter, natch), makes perfect sense after being lulled into a state of travel-induced half-sleep.”

5. The Lost Symbol, 2009

The Lost Symbol, released following a six-year Langdon hiatus, picks up the story of the professor again, this time as he is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the US Capitol Building in Washington DC.

“Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn,” Good Reads says. “A disturbing object - artfully encoded with five symbols - is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognises the object as an ancient invitation... one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.”

The book recieved both praise and criticism upon release.

Newsweek wrote that it “may be more like working a great crossword puzzle than reading War and Peace, but that doesn't mean it's not a fascinating pleasure”, while The National Post called it a “heavy-handed, clumsy thriller,” adding that “if it didn't have Brown's name on the cover, it would disappear”.

6. Inferno, 2013

Perhaps the most forgettable installation in the Langdon series, Inferno tells how the professor wakes up in an Italian hospital, disoriented and with no recollection of the past 36 hours, including the origin of the macabre object hidden in his belongings.

With a relentless female assassin trailing them through Florence, he and his resourceful doctor, Sienna Brooks, are forced to flee.

Critics were left notaby unimpressed by Inferno, especially The Daily Telegraph’s Jake Kerridge, who offered small glimmers of hope in an otherwise scathing review.

“As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor... With Inferno I sense for the first time that Brown is aiming at a tauter, better book, one more interested in the real world, longing to escape from the prison of his pleonasm.

“But in the end this is his worst book, and for a sad, even noble, reason – his ambition here wildly exceeds his ability.”

7. Digital Fortress, 1998

Dan Brown’s first major release is arguably his worst. 

The book tells the story of Commander Trevor Strathmore, the NSA's deputy director of operations, who has invented TRANSLTR, a top-secret super-computer that can crack any encryption code in an hour or two.

However, Strathmore discovers Digital Fortress, an encryption algorithm written by ex-NSA genius Ensei Tankado, that the TRANSLTR can't break, so he calls in his head of cryptography, Susan Fletcher, to help.

“A waste of time unless you have absolutely nothing else to read. And are very, very bored,” The Book Bag says.


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