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Dan Brown's symbolic odyssey

15 September 09 07:30 GMT

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

This review may contain some minor spoilers.

As the sequel to The Da Vinci Code - The Lost Symbol - goes on sale today, there is one symbol that is sure to loom large in Dan Brown's bank account.

No need to decode this one: $.

With best-seller status never in doubt, Brown has written another page-turner that takes his Harvard hero Robert Langdon on a life-or-death quest across Washington DC.

The location may have changed, but the template is largely identical to 2003's The Da Vinci Code and its predecessor Angels and Demons.

There's the zealous baddie, the brainy female companion, the secret laboratory, the race against time to decipher esoteric codes - and of course not everyone is who they appear to be.

'Delicious scandal'

There is a moment early on in The Lost Symbol when Dan Brown seems to comment on the fuss that surrounded The Da Vinci Code's fictional revelations about the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene.

A woman at an airport tells Robert Langdon her book group had read his book about the sacred feminine and the Church. "What a delicious scandal that one caused! You do enjoy putting the fox in the henhouse!"

Langdon responds: "Scandal wasn't really my intention."

The subject of the new novel is the clandestine world of freemasonry in America's most powerful city.

While the book name-checks Masonic forefathers such as George Washington, Langdon on several occasions highlights the "misinformation" that surrounds the Masons. One bizarre ritual he sees as "innocuous and symbolic".

Italics and flashbacks

It's hard to see anyone getting too upset at The Lost Symbol. The freemasonry plot is underpinned by wider themes of modern science and ancient mysticism.

What's likely to irk the reader most is the almost constant use of italics to indicate interior monologue. The first example occurs in the book's opening sentence.

Technobabble abounds, and there are wince-inducing descriptions such as: "The massive room looked as if a mad scientist had taken over a Walmart..."

Add to this some clunky flashbacks, and lecturing from know-it-all Langdon that is akin to being hit over the head repeatedly with an encyclopaedia.

But despite this, The Lost Symbol's 509 pages are a gripping read. Dan Brown has created a successful formula and he's stuck to it.

The Washington setting may not be as alluring as the Vatican or the Louvre, but Brown extracts enough history out of his landscape to make this a fascinating ride.

And he squeezes in plenty of contemporary references too: characters run Google searches on their BlackBerrys, text on their iPhones and one jokes about the "Twitterati".

Such is Brown's visual writing style, the feeling as you close the last page is not that you've read only the novel, but that you've also just watched the film.

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