First of all, I’m aware that Dan Brown is often regarded with a high degree of snobbery from many readers. As a writer, he doesn’t really have a discernible style, and he’s often chided for being unoriginal. However, each of his previous books in his Robert Langdon series have flown off the shelves and been wildly successful.
In Angels and Demons, as well as The Da Vinci Code, Brown takes an established conspiracy theory (and by established, I mean established by someone else), and creates a fast-paced adventure story to bring this theory to mainstream audiences. Papal elections are mysterious, and have always fascinated people everywhere. Brown uses this to his advantage in Angels and Demons. In The Da Vinci Code, his exploration of the true holy grail gained the notice of Christian groups, which only increased his exposure. What makes these books entertaining isn’t the writing, it’s the ideas that Brown has borrowed.
Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol, once again borrows some ideas as a basis for its story. This time, Freemasons finally get center stage after mentions in both previous books. The story sticks to Brown’s formula of running from location to location, this time in Washington, D.C., running across various puzzles, solving each one before progressing to the next level. The lines between science and religion team with the secrecy of the Freemasons to serve as a foundation for Robert Langdon’s adventure.
In the first two books of the Robert Langdon series, there was a pretty obvious formula to the layout of the stories. In The Lost Symbol, this same formula is back, and is painfully obvious. It’s almost as if Brown has a standard outline, and just changes the names of the locations and characters in order to suit his latest conspiracy theory.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about The Lost Symbol is Robert Langdon himself. In the earlier books, Langdon is non-judgemental and encourages everyone he comes across to view every new idea or puzzle with an open mind. In the latest installment, Langdon seems to regard the Freemasons as old kooks and is resistant to every new idea presented to him. He’s the exact opposite of his incarnation in the previous books. There is no explanation for this in the story.
Finally, where The Lost Symbol fails, is that the idea that provides the basis for the story just isn’t all that interesting or groundbreaking. Each revelation that is offered left me disappointed, and hoping that the next revelation would be better. Unfortunately, that never happened, and once everything was revealed, it just wasn’t satisfying.