About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thoughts on a Dan Brown Quartet

Over the past 10 years I have read four of Dan Brown’s books – Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and Inferno.

I can recall the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore recommending Angels and Demons. My review of the book included:

It is an exceptional thriller that weaves together particle physics, medieval art and architecture, God's existence, science's explanations of life, ambigrams and the history of the Catholic Church.

I purchased The Da Vinci Code as soon as it was published.

Shortly after I read The Da Vinci Code I summed up the book:

It is a dizzying journey into 2,000 years of Christian and non-Christian symbols with the extravagant symbolism of Da Vinci at the core of the book.

It tied for my favourite fiction of 2003.

Some years earlier I had read Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Even before the book was mentioned by Brown in The Da Vinci Code I could tell that Brown was following a comparable thesis that Jesus had not died on the Cross and had actually fathered children.

I subsequently read the trial judgment in the author’s claim against Brown for plagiarism. I thought the case weak before it was tried and the trial judge crushed their claim. As common with books with historical themes they had drawn extensively on previous authors. Claiming to be a work of history also doomed their claim for Brown could freely draw upon its premises.

(It became the most unusual of judgments when it was revealed the judge had placed a coded message within the judgment through random italicized letters.)

Six years later I read The Lost Symbol. I concluded:

It is a good not great thriller. I expect the Mason hierarchy will be as unhappy as Catholic leaders if readers believe everything in the book is true.

For Inferno I said:

The book is a breathtaking chase while Langdon determines the meaning of symbols in word, art and sculpture as a looming catastrophe faces the world.

I have admired in Brown’s books how he assembles and integrates historical information in his books.

I thought that Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code worked best out of the quartet as they had the grandest sweep of history. While I found their characterization of Catholicism unfair they each covered a compelling historic theme. In particular, in The Da Vinci Code, seeking to trace through centuries of history symbols purporting to show the descendants of Jesus left me eagerly turning the pages.

I do not know what themes Brown could have come up with for the successor novels but neither the Masons in The Lost Symbol nor Dante in the Inferno could match either Angels & Demons or The Da Vinci Code.

I found The Lost Symbol the weakest of the four books. While Brown remained credible Langdon having to decode the symbols relating to the pyramid in Washington that leads to the Ancient Mysteries actually stretched reality more than Jesus purportedly surviving crucifixion.  

I was glad to see Professor Langdon return to Europe for Inferno. Brown’s combination of history and symbols works better for me in a European setting where Brown can draw on far more centuries of symbols. I do acknowledge that it was hard to be objective in reviewing The Lost Symbol when I had found The Da Vinci Code brilliant.

I thought Inferno had the best ending of the quartet. As I do not want to write spoilers I will not venture into the conclusion of the book. It had a subtlety not often encountered in thriller fiction.

Ultimately, Brown wrote his blockbuster too early in his writing career. His subsequent books pale in comparison with The Da Vinci Code. I hope he can prove me wrong but I think The Da Vinci Code will always dominate memories of Brown as a writer.


  1. Bill, thanks for a thoughtful analysis of the four Dan Brown books you read and reviewed. I now see why the author's themes are not original (vis-a-vis my comment in your earlier post) having drawn them from previously published historical works. Nonetheless, I think the way Brown weaved that historical material into his fiction is innovative. It's also interesting that he is quite convincing when writing about secret societies like the Freemasons and one can see why that might ruffle a few feathers.

  2. I think after reading your last couple of posts on Brown, I'd be more likely to pick up one of his books than previously, so thanks (I think!)

    Maybe The Da Vinci Code ought to be the one, when it happens.

  3. I too had read the Holy Cross and the Holy Grail many years earlier - it was funny the way that all panned out. Good to hear a lawyer's take on the court case!

  4. Bill - Thanks for your thoughts on these novels. I agree with you that Brown does a very effective job of integrating historical information in his novels. Of course, I'm partial to history in stories, but still, he's done a solid job of it.

  5. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. Brown is good at taking a set of historical facts and using them in a credible modern story.

  6. col: Thanks for the comment. I think it is time for you to read Brown. I hope you can approach his books with an open mind. I find it hard to avoid preconceptions with a famous author I have not read previously.

  7. Moira: Thanks for commenting. If the authors of the Holy Blood, Holy Grail were looking for publicity they got a painful dose in the judgment. The judge was harsh in assessing their evidence.

  8. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Big historic themes in big books have worked well for Brown.

  9. Bill, this is a very interesting post. Although I have no interest in reading books by this author, there was lots of information there I was not aware of. Especially about the trial.

  10. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. There is a good book in the story of the trial. Among other things I learned that his wife researches the history for him.