In Depth

Dan Brown's Inferno: 'clunky, but clever' and a certain hit

Da Vinci Code author's new novel is arguably 'worst yet', but modern plague tale is already a bestseller

DAN BROWN's new novel, Inferno, is "clunky, but clever" and the American author's "charmless, tuneless prose" won't stop it becoming the year's best-selling book, early reviews suggest.

Inferno is the fourth book by Brown to feature Robert Langdon, a fictional Harvard professor of religious iconology. It draws inspiration from Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy, an allegorical vision of the afterlife that Brown describes as "one of history's most celebrated writings".

Brown used the Bible and the paintings of Leonardo in earlier books such as The Da Vinci Code, but this time there is no "centuries-old conspiracy to uncover: rather, a very modern threat", writes the Daily Telegraph's Jake Kerridge. A brilliant scientist called Bertrand Zobrist has decided to tackle human over-population by releasing a new plague.

What's interesting about Inferno is that Brown introduces a "new and welcome moral ambiguity to his work", says Kerridge. Zobrist may talk like a stereotypical James Bond villain, but Brown "repeatedly implies" that there is something to be said for a comparably drastic approach to solving the global population crisis.

For The Independent's Boyd Tonkin the big question is whether Brown can "re-engineer these over-familiar devices of outbreak, pestilence and contagion into a viable organism." The answer is: yes, albeit "clunkily".

Brown makes his reader think the race to identify and nullify the virus - a frantic chase that switches from Florence to Istanbul - is the main game. Then, with a "wicked cunning that even those of us who labour through his charmless, tuneless prose could hardly gainsay,[he] pulls several rugs from underneath his reader".

Writing in the Financial Times, A.N. Wilson says Brown's fans will feel right at home with the plot of his new book, a "sort of paper-chase, in which the professor hurtles from one famous spot to the next, picking up clues left by the dead maniac". But he says Inferno reads less like a novel than a "treatment" for a thriller film.

For Kerridge, Inferno is ultmately Brown's "worst book", an example of ambition wildly exceeding ability. But such criticisms are unlikely to deter readers – pre-orders have already seen it hit the No. 1 spot on bestseller lists and booksellers are confident it will be the year's highest-selling title.

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