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Book Review: The Lost Symbol
Say what you want about Dan Brown’s writing style or the validity of the claims he makes in his fiction; I’ve been a fan of him since I first read The Da Vinci Code. He has an uncanny ability to hold reader interest and a sneaky way of slipping in real facts into his books that have you racing to your computer to look it up and see if it is true (or to see pictures). I think that is an incredible talent on his part, so I didn’t hesitate in purchasing a copy of The Lost Symbol. Having now finished it, however, I believe that it does not live up to Robert Langdon’s past adventures.
The Lost Symbol brings our favorite Harvard Professor back to America. While he spent time in Rome and Paris in his previous two outings, he is now unwittingly drawn to Washington D. C. where he discovers that his long time friend, Peter Solomon is being kept hostage by a madman. The only way Robert can help his friend is to decipher an ancient message left by the Freemasons that supposedly leads to one of our country’s greatest mysteries. Through his adventure he’s aided by Peter’s sister, a scientist on the verge of a major breakthrough, and the surly director of the CIA.
This book manages to do a lot of things right, like its predecessors. There are neat little facts sprinkled throughout that can be confirmed with a quick web search that help pull the story out of the book world and into the real world. I’ve always been fascinated by this aspect of Dan Brown’s novels, and encourage people to pick up the illustrated versions where they are available. The story also has the sense of urgency and mystery that you would expect from his books. However, where this book falters is that it uses some of these devices to a sickening degree. For example, let’s say that a character discovers the answer to a puzzle. Rather than telling the reader the answer right away, the author will describe the amazing reaction the character has, then end the chapter and not revisit the answer to the puzzle until much later. It’s one technique authors can use to keep readers reading, but here it is used so much that this reader felt like he was being yanked around without any end in sight. Countless questions were asked without giving answers until much, much later. So when an answer would finally show up, I’d be so annoyed that I wouldn’t even care (or I wouldn’t be sure if he was telling me the real answer or a red herring). It also seemed like every puzzle was a puzzle within a puzzle, to the point that the smallest details were used as huge revelations, which to the reader can feel like the author is reaching (or wonder why he didn’t mention it earlier!).
The book also has a bit of trouble explaining itself in the ending. I’m sure in Dan Brown’s mind it all made sense, but it took two or three characters giving speeches to us just to explain what he meant by the final reveal of the story. Even now I’m still scratching my head, wondering if it was a good explanation or if it still has holes in it.
In any case, I did enjoy the book, even if it took me longer to get through than the previous Robert Langdon novels. I recommend this to fans of Dan Brown’s work, but I do hope that in future novels, he tones down the ‘I’m-going-to-answer-this-question-no-wait-I’m-not’ technique that he loves so much. Don’t yank us around, Dan Brown. We still like the story if you reveal some answers ahead of time.
4 out of 5