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.