Monday, April 9, 2018

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown


   2009; 639 pages.  New Author? : No, but it’s been a while.  Since before the start of this blog, actually.  Book #3 (out of 5) in the Robert Langdon series.  Genre: Action-Thriller; Mystery; Puzzle-Solving.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    For Robert Langdon, it was great to be back in Washington DC.  Especially since it was an all-expenses-paid trip, courtesy of his lifelong mentor and friend, Peter Solomon, who's invited him to be a guest speaker for the night.  In the US Capitol building, no less.

    Of course, it was all on very short notice.  Something about the originally scheduled speaker suddenly being unable to make it.  So Langdon was kind of a back-up option.  Still, having a private jet pick him up and fly him  to DC was quite the experience.  As was a sleek Lincoln Town Car limousine waiting to whisk him from Dulles Airport to the Capitol.

    That was when things got just a little bit wonky.  Because when the limousine dropped him off, and Robert Langdon made his way to Statuary Hall, where the lecture was to be held, it was dark.  And empty.  And in checking with the Capitol officials, there was no lecture of any kind scheduled for tonight in the building.  Maybe this was somebody’s idea of a joke.

    But if so, the jokester had sunk a lot of money into pulling it off.

What’s To Like...
    The Lost Symbol is equal parts action, intrigue, and puzzle-solving, and delivers plenty of each from the get-go.  Dan Brown switches up the POV’s to keep things hopping at a crisp pace.  There aren’t a lot of characters to follow in this 600+ page book, so the ones that are here get developed nicely.  I was particularly intrigued by Inoue Sato; you could never be 100% sure exactly whose side she was on.

    There’s only one setting for the book : Washington DC.  Indeed, towards the end of the book (page 622), Robert Langdon remarks that it’s only been ten hours since he landed in DC.  So the book's entire time frame is amazingly short.

    If you’re fascinated by the Masonic Order, with their 33 hierarchy levels and their rumored metaphysical secrets, this is the book for you.  Ditto if you’re curious as to how Particle Physics might dovetail with ancient Mysticism.  And of course, there are a slew of puzzles that need solving to save the world.

    With 134 chapters to span the 639 pages, there’s always a convenient place to stop reading for the night.  I was happy to see my Gnostics get worked into the story, as well as a brief plug for blogging.  Even Aleister Crowley gets a brief mention (who?), and it was kewl to see Melancolia 1 here too.  The acronym “TLV” was new to me (it means something quite different if you work in Regulatory Affairs), and it was fun to learn the origin of the word “sincerely”.

    There’s a little bit of cussing, and of course a requisite amount of violence and killing.  This is a standalone novel, as well as part of the Robert Langdon series.

Kewlest New Word...
Suffumigation (n.) : the burning of substances (such as incense) to produce fumes as part of some magical rituals.
Others: Putti (n., plural).

Excerpts...
    One mortal man had seen Mal’akh naked, eighteen house earlier.  The man had shouted in fear.  “Good God, you’re a demon!”
    “If you perceive me as such,” Mal’akh had replied, understanding as had the ancients that angels and demons were identical – interchangeable archetypes – all a matter of polarity: the guardian angel who conquered your enemy in battle was perceived by your enemy as a demon destroyer.  (pg. 14)

    As a young girl, Katherine Solomon had often wondered if there was life after death.  Does heaven exist?  What happens when we die?  As she grew older, her studies in science quickly erased any fanciful notions of heaven, hell, or the afterlife.  The concept of “life after death,” she came to accept, was a human construct … a fairy tale designed to soften the horrifying truth that was our mortality.
    Or so I believed  (pg. 487)

 “Death is usually an all-or-nothing thing!”  (pg. 47)
    For all the thrills and spills in The Lost Symbol, there were some weaknesses.  First of all, there are a slew of info dumps: about the Masons, New Age metaphysics, the layout of Washington DC, the mystical “eye” on the back of the $1 bill, etc., and for the most part, they’re awkwardly dropped into the storyline.

    No one seems to prceive that Dr. Abaddon’s  name is obviously phony – it’s an old synonym for Hell or the Devil.  And you just know that when one of the characters is introduced as being “plump”, she’s going to get killed off somewhere along the line.  Why not just dress her in a Star Trek red shirt?

    Also, there is a kewl bit of situational ethics introduced at the end, when the showdown between Peter Solomon and Mal’akh takes place.  Alas, the author chickens out in resolving it, allowing an act of God to make the decision instead of the humans.

    But the main problem with The Lost Symbol is the big secret itself.  The bad guy wants it.  The Masons are willing to die to keep it a secret.  And the mighty CIA lives in mortal fear that us commoners will learn about it.  Yet when it finally is disclosed to the reader, it’s really no big deal and it’s really not that big of a secret.  Anyone who’s ever dabbled in Metaphysics 101 will already be familiar with it.

    What a royal letdown.

    7 Stars.  I remember The Lost Symbol being panned as a literary flop when it came out.  True, it had to follow Dan Brown’s mega-hit, The Da Vinci Code, an almost impossible task.  The haters are justified; it is a poorly-written book with an ending that is mediocre at best.  But the Dan Brown loyalists are justified as well.  The writing may be mediocre, but the nonstop-action storytelling itself is top-notch.

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