ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Heat up your summer reading with Inferno

Brown is prone to cliché and sloppy writing, but at the right moment, he also hits the spot.

Dan Brown, international sensation and author of The Da Vinci Code, has penned a new Robert Langdon mystery, Inferno.

To me, Brown’s writing is the fast food of the literary world. It’s not particularly good for you, but people seem to love it.

The Da Vinci Code is credited with being one of the most popular books of all time. Inferno topped pre-order lists, and is set to become the most-read book of 2013. So what secret ingredients does Brown use to keep us wanting more?

The salt and sugar of Brown’s writing are his great abilities to generate endless plot twists, and to lean on the shoulders of great artists. By inserting details of well-known works of art and literature, Brown adds an illusion of depth into his stories.

In Inferno, as the title suggests, Brown’s mystery draws on codes and clues taken from Alighieri Dante’s book of the same name. Published 700 years ago, Dante’s Inferno offers a vision of the terrifying layers of hell.

In Brown’s Inferno, a mad geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist is obsessed with overpopulation. He has calculated that within 100 years, calamity will befall the human race. To thin the world’s population, Zobrist engineers a plague to unleash on the world.

Zobrist is also a big fan of Dante, and by referring to details from the Inferno, Zobrist leaves clues pointing to the location of the plague. It falls to Robert Langdon, Harvard university professor of symbology, to decode the mystery and find the fatal virus before it’s released.

Sometimes Brown’s descriptions of Dante’s beloved Florence read like a tourist brochure, but more often than not, he successfully recreates the city’s atmosphere and energy.

It’s no wonder thousands flock to the locations he describes in his books.

Last week, due to a mention by Obama, George Orwell’s classic 1984 also had a sudden surge in sales. Brown and Orwell were both compelled to write about subjects that deeply worried them, and hoped to provoke readers into contemplating an uncertain and unpleasant future. 1984, however, is an essential classic — lean and sharp.

Brown is prone to cliché and sloppy writing, but at the right moment, he also hits the spot.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.

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