Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown (hardcover, $29.95)

Thirty dollars for a book? It must be gold-plated. Actually, it's Dan Brown who's probably gold-plated. Five million copies of The Lost Symbol have been printed. He sold 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code, the second in his Robert Langdon trilogy. So, the big question is: Is The Lost Symbol worth it?

At 509 pages, that works out to approximately six cents a page. Quite a few of the pages are dense with information on symbols, rituals, and Mason history. Whether the information is accurate is another question, but for the purposes of Brown's storyline, it's good bang for the buck. Unbelievably, the whole story takes place over about a 12-hour period of time. That's 42 pages per hour, $2.52 per hour, in case you're curious. Again, pretty good bang for the buck. Parking your car in a downtown lot costs more than that. (And watching your car sit in its parking space isn't very entertaining.)

It would be hard to top the amusing and fantastic plot of The Da Vinci Code. In that book, Brown had his readers solving puzzles and invested in helping his hero, Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon. It would be hard to top that, and Brown does not manage this feat in The Lost Symbol.

Langdon is again called to save the world from a plot to bring a mystical darkness down upon it. A tattooed man-monster has infiltrated the Masonic brotherhood in Washington, D.C., and tries to use its own secrets to transform himself into … what? A god, a devil, a politician? Peter Solomon, Langdon's friend, is the keeper of the Smithsonian's treasures and a Mason. Katherine, his sister, is a scientist who has been trying to quantify the soul. Together they trigger the events that result in Langdon's involvement.

Brown returns somewhat to the plodding and professorial tone of Angels and Demons, the first in the series. The Da Vinci Code had sparkle, the other two do not. Brown does have a few puzzles, but they demand that the reader come pre-loaded with esoteric knowledge in order to solve them. However, The Lost Symbol does not slip all the way back. Brown has learned the trick of pacing and interleaving back stories very well, and his book is a page-turner.

Whether the book is worth the money and the hype comes down to the resolution and how much the reader is willing to swallow. The über-villain is über-diabolical, and the CIA administrator who may or may not be trying to help Langdon is also über-diabolical. The purported Masonic secrets and rituals are revolting, although Brown does his best to periodically say that the Masons are really a great bunch of guys. One hand slaps and the other applies the balm. Maybe it's a guy thing.

I think what it boils down to is this: a book about a psychopath is a book about a psychopath. Is the hero valiant enough, is the villain villainous enough, and is the villain vanquished well enough? Yes, it was all enough, but it wasn't über-enough.

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