Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown (2009)

[I originally posted this review in 2009 on another site.  I'm reposting an updated version of it here because Dan Brown's latest book, Inferno, has just been released.]

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown (2009)

Dan Brown has one good skill in particular I'd like to mention.  He's good at puzzles and codes.  That became obvious in The Da Vinci Code.  It's his thing.  I usually enjoy when he incorporates that into his books because he does it well.

I'll start this review of The Lost Symbol by discussing a few points that most critics predicted for this novel.  Then I will discuss the bad points of this book.  The four things that many critics expected before the book even hit the shelves: poor writing skills, formulaic storytelling, predictability, and factual mistakes.

To start with, the poor writing skill.  To that, I say big deal.  That's right, I said big deal.  Sure, the guy is no Shakespeare.  So what?  Not too many thriller novelists are.  I can certainly live with what others call amateurish writing.  It's not like he uses poor spelling or bad grammar.  It's his style that critics don't like.  It's simply not artistic.  But like I said, no biggie.  People complained about the italics representing either thought, or thoughts that should stand out.  Well, that doesn't really bother me.  I've seen it before and I get the gist of what he's trying to say.  In Mr. Brown's book, it did help me to understand what Mr. Brown thought was important, though I often disagreed.

As for formulaic storytelling, it's nothing that I didn't expect.  I suppose Mr. Brown might be surprised that readers are surprised.  In his four other books, the story always took place in a single night (or day, or something close).  In the Langdon series (this is the third), The Da Vinci Code was the exact same formula as Angels and Demons, yet DVC is currently the third highest grossing fiction novel of all time.  So it's not a bad formula.  The unexpected phone call or visit, urgent need for him to attend, the bumbling police-type who suspects Langdon, the fleeing, the female sidekick, the stereotypical bad guy, the code that needs a'crackin'.  Sure, it's all the same from one book to the next.  That's what he does.  I know what you're thinking - he's supposed to swap off just enough from one book to the next so it doesn't feel like the same story.  But we'll get to that later.

Yes, it is predictable.  Dan Brown, in this book, did a poor job of hiding any of the secrets.  I will cover that later.  But seriously, if things go as expected I don't really care.  I like a surprise now and then, but readers often get frustrated if things don't go as they want.  What made this book so disappointing was that those obvious plot twists were actually meant to be big reveals - things unexpected by the reader!  But we all knew they were coming, so every step of this book, nothing was ever a surprise.

The factual mistakes are also annoying, but Dan Brown has shown himself in the past to be only a halfway decent researcher.  I'm not saying he doesn't research, but he seems to do it towards a predetermined goal.  That goal is often politically biased, or has some root in a particular theology he believes in.  Sometimes it seems he has reasons for putting in "facts" that are no such thing.  For example, in this book, The Lost Symbol, I know it was frustrating that he used the CIA as the police force involved.  It didn't make sense, did it?  It should have been FBI because this took place within the United States.  But to understand Dan Brown, you have to understand why he would use the CIA, and it has to do with the point he wanted to make.  In this case, it was to make a swipe at the Patriot Act, which gave the CIA the authority to tap the phone of one of the main characters.  It was to make the readers think "Gee, that evil Patriot Act and the evil CIA and blah blah blah..."  You get the picture.  Dan Brown wants to manipulate the readers' political beliefs by using a made up scenario that is extremely unlikely to ever occur.

Okay, now that I've covered those four points, I will delve into a deep review of several maddening points that turned me off from this book.  I'll give the plot away, and I'll rant a bit.  Be warned.


Nothing in this book was necessary. With this, I'm going to give away the ending and discuss it. Stop reading now if you don't want to know!

If you start at the end with all the revelations and work backwards, you see nothing but nonsense.

1) In the end, we find out that the whole thing, the whole story was simply because the bad guy wanted to tattoo a secret word or symbol on his head and then have his father sacrifice him.  He just needs to find out what that word or symbol is, so he goes through this whole elaborate ordeal to find that word or symbol.  Okay, so far so good.  The problem is that the bad guy's father knows what the secret word or symbol is...and the bad guy is fully aware of this!!  That's right, the bad guy knows his own father is in possession of the information he seeks.  So what does the bad guy do?  Does he try to extract that info from dear old dad?  No!  He tortures his father in order to gain many other secrets from him, but never bothers to ask him about this supposedly grandiose and all-important word or symbol.  Shit!!  Why didn't he just ask him what the stinkin' word or symbol is???  Why on earth did he have to go through this elaborate scenario?  He's torturing his father.  His father is spilling his guts about all sorts of things.  Seems like the perfect opportunity, if you really wanted to know what that word or symbol is.  Then he wouldn't have had to call in Langdon at all.  The whole book was pointless.

2) Also in the end, we find out that the lost word is a bible that is buried under the cornerstone of the Washington Monument.  This rather disappointing revelation would have been bad enough.  But it turns out, it's not a secret!!  That's right.  Just as Langdon is about to crack the final code, Peter Solomon (the bad guy's father) tells Langdon what it is!  He knew the whole time!!  Again, why do we need this pyramid and codes and a chase through the city to uncover a secret that's not a secret?  The old priest-turned-agnostic even knew!  He knew that the pyramid had secret writing on it, and knew that Langdon had not yet uncovered it.  Too bad they didn't just say "Hey Langdon, it's just a bible under the Washington Monument.  So don't knock yourself out or anything."  The fact is, they could have told him that early on in the book.

2.1) When Solomon tells Langdon it's there but he can't show him - that is actually one of the more comical scenes in the book. To paraphrase:

Solomon - "So anyway, I can't dig it up to show you, but believe me, it's there." 
Langdon - "Oh, that's okay, no need to dig it up. I believe you. Plus, I don't really care. In fact, I can't imagine anyone would. I was really hoping for some cool treasure, like the kind Nicolas Cage found in National Treasure."

I mean, it was so bizarrely anti-climatic and so uninteresting that Langdon didn't even need or want proof!

Once you understand these main two points, you realize that the entire book was unnecessary.  Nothing was needed at all.  Langdon's involvement becomes a mystery.  Why on earth does the antagonist get Langdon involved, if his only purpose is to solve a riddle, the answer to which he could have just extracted from his father under torture.

3) CIA involvement.  The only reason that the government (in this case the CIA) is involved is to prevent the "great secret" from escaping.  In the end, it's just a bunch of politicians going through their ritualistic mumbo-jumbo - the same kind of stuff you can watch on the Discovery Channel.  Big deal!  I cannot imagine the government going to any lengths to suppress that!  In fact, it's completely laughable!  It was supposed to be something from which our nation may never recover!  Most people wouldn't care, and those who do would see it as an opportunity for the political opposition.  Most would probably find it a real howler.  It would be all over YouTube, comedians would do skits on it, and everyone would get a good laugh.  I suppose some on the left would consider it a religion and cry about separation of church and state, and some on the far right might think they're devil worshippers or something, but Mr. Brown cannot honestly believe our country is so backward as to really worry about something like this.

In essence, this realization makes the entire involvement of the CIA completely unnecessary, pointless, and bizarre.  I think one of the main problems with Mr. Brown's books is that he really has no concept of what people believe and what information people can handle.  Mr. Brown believes Christians would just go to pieces over this great secret.  But what's he basing that on?  Is Mr. Brown aware that we're living in the 21st century?  If you remember, both George Bush and John Kerry were members of the Skull and Bones while at Yale.  During the 2004 election, conspiracy theorists tried their best to generate interest in this tidbit, to no avail.  The reason?  No one cared.  Sure, they probably performed a bunch of rituals that we would think of as weird.  You know something?  So what.  Remember, Nancy Reagan used an astrologer, but her husband still served two terms.  Things like that aren't likely to tear down the fabric of our society, as Mr. Brown believes.  I often get the feeling that Mr. Brown simply doesn't understand how people really think or feel.

3.1) Another point about the CIA - the agent makes a comment that the secret is of national importance, and that the Masons are like terrorists because they haven't done a good job of guarding that secret (hence the phone tapping, a la the Patriot Act). Well, remember it's their secret, it's about their members. The CIA comes in and says it's of national importance, but only because the Masons themselves are having rituals. There is something akin to circular logic here that I can't quite put my finger on.

4) Kryptos.  What on earth?  For years, since the secret was revealed in the Da Vinci Code's book cover, we knew that this book would involve Kryptos.  But in the end, it didn't.  It was simply a ploy.  I guess Mr. Brown couldn't work it into the plot, so he just didn't bother.  Instead, it was just some chatter on an online discussion board which Mr.  Brown's brilliant characters took for a redacted document!  Puh-lease.  So some folks were just having an online discussion about Kryptos, and the possible meaning, and it sounded an awful lot like this mysterious pyramid code thingy, so they tried to hack the discussion board.  And that's it.  Thus ended Kryptos' involvement.  It was completely, 100% unnecessary.  In no way did it add to the story.  Without hardly any editing, you could completely remove all of it.

5) Noetics - why?  I never did see any connection to noetics and the actual plot of the book.  I guess it's Dan Brown's new thing, and he wanted to write about it.  He likes the esoteric, as we all know.  That's one reason why I read his books.  But in this case, he didn't make it have anything to do with anything happening in the story, although he tried to, and probably fooled a lot of readers into thinking it did.

6) "Hey, I think I'll kill my aunt because she studies noetics."  Wait, what?  And why?  Apparently, while torturing his father he learns that his aunt is a noetic scientist (pardon the oxymoron), and decides that noetics (and her discoveries) sounds an awful lot like the great secrets of the universe he feels on the verge of uncovering.  So he decides she must die so that...um...so that...no one else will know what he's going to know...?  In fact, he goes to great lengths to try to kill her.  But that makes no sense.  He's not out to kill all noetic scientists, he doesn't even go looking for any others.  He hears that she's made some breakthroughs.  He doesn't inquire if any other scientists made similar breakthroughs.  But this one person, she must die.  I just can't twist my mind around this to make it behave sensibly.  Mr. Brown apparently wanted the woman involved, and couldn't come up with a reason.  I think it would have been better if he had come up with an actual reason, but that's just me.  In fact, I can think of two right off.  Why not have him be bitter towards her for personal reasons?  Suppose he finds out that she had urged Solomon to let him sit in prison.  Or suppose he finds out that one of her breakthroughs might, in some way, interfere with his plans.  I don't know...but something, some reason should have been shown for his actions towards this one particular noetic scientist and no other. (and don't mention her lab partner. she was killed only for being there.)

7) The bad guy, who is otherwise able to outsmart them all, doesn't consider there might be backups of her data?  Really?  Must have just slipped his mind.  Brilliant scientists with years of valuable research don't back up their data, right?  But don't worry, we all know Dan Brown will pull in a deux ex machina and surprise us all with backups that no one else knew about. 

8) She calls the police, tells them her brother was kidnapped, tells them the address!!! The CIA is looking for this guy, she tells them the address!!! Again, to paraphrase:
"Bah, enough of this," the agent says. "We've got no time. We've GOT to catch this guy!" 
"But...but here's his address. He's there right now," she replies. 
"Nice try, but that's not how we operate. We set a trap, see? He told us he would be here in ten minutes, see? We trust him, see?" 
"But...but, don't you even want to search his house? Or stake it out? Or rescue my brother? Or make SURE he's not there?" 
"Bah! Enough of this. If you're so interested in it, YOU go." 
"Will you send a swat team with me?" 
"Bah! Enough of this. I'll give you ONE GUY!" 
"But...will you monitor our communications? And come running the minute you lose contact?" 
"Bah!! Enough of this! I will NOT monitor your communications, and will ONLY come check on you if after...oh, say, an hour of no responses from our guy."
You get the point.  This, to me, was the spot that killed the book - the complete nonsensical attitude of the CIA to completely avoid the bad guy's house until that point in the book where the author wants them to show up, at which point they are suddenly greatly interested in searching it top to bottom.  Come on, Mr. Brown!  Stop, okay?  Just...stop.

9) The bad guy made it to 33rd degree Mason.  But...why?  You would think it's to learn their secrets.  Not so.  He states that he never expected them to tell the secrets, even then.  So why go to the trouble?  Was it just to get the politicians on film doing their rituals?  Why not sneak in and plant a camera.  I'm just sayin', you could do that in a night, instead of spending years advancing through the Mason ranks.  And why, why oh why, does he even want the film?  The bad guy's role in this adventure ends at his sacrifice.  If politicians are smeared, what is that to him?  He'll be an almighty demon with great powers!  What does he care?  Mr. Brown shimmed around the idea that it was some sort of leverage, to be used only if he didn't get his demands.  However he left this so vague as to be something you'd rather just not think about.  Mr. Brown needed a big secret, a reveal, and a reason for it being a secret, and a reason for the bad guy to want to reveal it.  Wouldn't it have been nice if he could have come up with those reasons?

[I'm breaking into this review for an important announcement.  The overuse of "Mr. Brown" makes this feel like a Dr. Seuss book.  "Mr. Brown went out of town."  I'm only doing that because referring to him simply as "Brown" doesn't feel right.  Unlike other authors reviewed here, Dan Brown is still living...if that makes sense.]

10) A super-human bad guy.  He's just so good at...well, everything.  No one can catch him, no one can stop him, no one can outsmart him.  Somehow, he knew, he just knew that the CIA would not come search his house.  He already found a security guard nosing around.  This one person, he realizes, is all they will send.  Why?  How does he know that?  Why is he still there?  Is it so that he can lure the protagonists there?  And does he somehow devine that the protagonist will show up with only one CIA guy?  He manages to outsmart that one CIA guy by parking those cars out front.  Really?  Is it really that easy?  Then he easily takes out that one CIA guy as if it was all part of his master plan.  He takes the time to torture Langdon and extract info from him, casually strings the woman up to...slowly...die, and casually strolls off, all the while one step ahead of everyone.  It's not like he's monitoring CIA and police activity to know if or when they're coming to get him.  The CIA must be in cahoots with him, and have agreed not to come over until he's gone.  And he knows this, so he takes his time.  That's how you feel when you read it, because it makes no sense in the real world.

11) One scene I was looking forward to was the chase in the dark at the Noetics lab.  I was looking forward to the bad guy's reaction to that giant room in total darkness, and how he would be shocked, and realize his prey wouldn't be so easily captured.  Mr. Brown skipped this, because super human bad guys are not shocked so easily.  I was looking forward to the woman better using this room to her advantage.  After all, it's the size of a football field!  It's completely dark!  How hard is it to hide from someone? If she runs a distance, and then walks slightly here and there, I'd bet a bundle that bad guy would be hard pressed to ever just happen to come across her!  A football field, people!  Come on!  And yet...and yet, we forget.  He's a super-dooper-bad guy, and simply walks right up to her, wherever she is, again and again.  This was one of the most disappointing scenes, as it simply allowed a good twist to go unused in favor of the hackneyed super-human bad guy approach (he can find you in the dark!) that seems to come out of a cheesy late night movie.  And even after her "clever" escape, he still nearly catches her.  He's like Jason Voorhees.  He's magic, or something.  Ridiculous.

12) The bad guy is a master of disguise.  Although nearly every inch of his body is covered in tattoos, he simply applies makeup and strolls through the streets.  No one knows.  They think he's using some tanning stuff.  I'd say it's very unlikely he could cover everything so well without it looking very, very odd.  It would all be the same color, like a cartoon.

13) How did this dude make it to 33rd degree Mason in just a few years?  People spend their whole lives advancing half that far.  And for them to know so little about him, yet award him with that honor, was unrealistic.  And the entire time, all the months and years he's flying through the ranks, they never say something like "Say, what's with the makeup? And the wig?"  Nope.  Dan Brown just avoids that whole little episode.  Nor do they ever suspect that he's lying, or faking it?  Didn't they bother to get to know him at all?  Can I just walk in, join the Masons, and start climbing that ladder?  Is it really that easy?  It would have been better not to have made the bad guy a 33rd degree Mason, or a Mason at all for that matter, since it didn't advance the plot at all.  Just say he hid a camera in there to catch the stuff on tape.  That would have made more sense and been far easier to pull off.

14) The good guys are always the bad guys.  Dan Brown, I think, must have had some trouble with the law.  He always makes the cops (or CIA or whatever) evil.  And yes, they are bad guys in this and other of Mr. Brown's books.  He shows you their bad side, shows you what mean things they do, and makes you hate them.  For once, I wish Mr. Brown would have the cops turn out to be the culprits.  It would certainly make sense based on how he writes them.

15) Dan Brown's dislike for and misunderstanding of Christianity remains intact.  To him, what some evil popes did in the middle ages defines the entire religion.  Also, to Mr. Brown, all Christians are Roman Catholics.

16) Noetics is barely acknowledged as a real science.  However, I say congrats to all those who study it or do research in it.  If that's your thing, I don't discourage that at all.  But to write about it as if it's on the verge of bringing us to a new enlightenment, to a higher plane of being...well, that's a stretch to say the least.  I would have respected the book more if he didn't try to convince readers of its reality.

17) Dan Brown has a bad habit of drawing things out.  When the bad guy is laying on the altar and the knife hovers above him, I finally had to laugh after what seemed like 10 minutes of cliffhanging description of that darn knife about to plunge into him.  Will it plunge into him?  It's a'hoverin'.  It's coming closer.  Beads of sweat roll down his face.  The air is still.  The knife hovers.  He raises his hand, his muscles tense.  He grimaces, and---- Oh come on already!  Just do something!  Kill him or don't kill him, I've long since lost interest!  What crazy inane writing!  This same pattern is followed throughout the book.  It adds layers of frustration to your life that you will not appreciate.  It's not good writing.  It's hackneyed and amateurish.

18) Page after page after page of boring discussion to promote Mr. Brown's new religion, which seems to be a blend of pseudoscientific this or that, some noetics thrown in, a bit of what he felt Christianity should have been (minus the "J" guy), plus a bunch of other religions...oh what the heck, let's take ALL religions, put them in a blender with ice for 30 seconds and voila!  Brownianism.  Apparently it has something to do with all of us being gods, or having super brain powers.  Something like that.  Who knows?  Mr. Brown doesn't even know.  But he believes it, and spends like the last 50 pages telling us all about it.  This is long after the story is over, mind you.  Nothing in it adds to the plot.  No more revelations, just...preaching on Brownianism.

19) One time I cut my hand off, and it hurt like a mother, for like hours.  Then I was okay.  By the next morning, I took a walking tour of the Washington Monument and had a jolly good time.

20) Did they put the hand on ice?  I would think they should at least try to reattach it.  They had no idea how long before they would find him.

"Hey look, a hand! Nice ring on it. Can I have it?" 
"Sure, whatever."

22) The big twist, the thing that he built up most of the book to reveal, was so painfully obvious that I forgot it was suppose to be a secret.  Each time it would come up, in my mind I kept thinking it was already known to the characters.  Few times in any book I've ever read has there been such an obvious and easily predicted reveal.  Mr. Brown really strung it out, too, especially when the actual revelation took place.  I wonder, in all seriousness, who else read this book before publishing.  Did an editor really read it?  Did his wife?  Friends?  Anyone?  Didn't anyone say, "Yeah, I'm only halfway through but I know who the bad guy is."?  And did Mr. Brown then reply, "I'm a bazillionaire! I don't need your opinions! Away with you!"  Or what did he say?  Did Mr. Brown say "Yeah, I need to clean that up?" and then just forgot? There is absolutely no way on earth that he could have possibly believed this big reveal wasn't obvious if even a single other person read it before publishing.

23) One big thing promoters are saying is how he gives these wonderful descriptions of our capital, the hidden architecture, the secret past that influenced the founding fathers to build this or that.  People act like this is going to really draw tremendous crowds to visit Washington DC and stare at the buildings with newfound fascination at the hidden truths that Dan Brown has revealed.  This is nonsense.  Sure, our capital has many buildings that were built by Masons, that have all sorts of weird symbols and things.  But nothing there is new, or secret.  Anyone who cares to read about it can go to any library and find out, or pick up a pamphlet on it at the airport, or just Google it.  The thing is, in centuries past symbolism was used far more than it is today.  The Masons, like tons of other societies, loved symbolism.  And it wasn't just societies, it was religions, it was guilds, it was clubs, it was unions, it even crossed over into capitalism so that many companies had to have logos and still do.  When they created things with Masonic symbols, don't think it's because it was some secret message that told of a one world order or some other arcane secret that would reveal some great truth.  Come on, do you really think people would stamp that on the dollar bill or the front of a building if it's a secret?  Why would they?  They used symbols because they liked symbols, not because they liked Masons.  Masons just happens to be one of the biggest groups that survived to present times, so people know about them, and their symbols were popular.

24) Dan Brown has a habit of finding a single example of a theory to prove it's true.  In DVC, it took only Da Vinci to believe (or so Dan Brown thought he believed) that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married for it to be true.  Da Vinci lived 1500 years after them, but if he believed they were married, it must be true, right?  Here, we have, for example, a sculptor that created George Washington looking like Zeus decades after Washington's death!  Dan Brown uses that as proof that Washington believed himself to be a god!  Same with the symbolism in the rotunda.  If a painter created it, it must reflect what our founding fathers believed, right?  I mean, it has to, right?  Well, in Mr. Brown's mind, it does.  He states in this book that the founding fathers were not Christians, giving no proof at all of that, even while there's ample evidence that they were.  His theory is that they were Masons, and Masons allow people of any religion as long as they believe in God, ergo, Masons believe in God but are not Christians.  Nice logic flow, right?

I used to believe that this book would do to America and patriotism for our country what DVC tried to do for Christianity - undermine it.  However, because the book is so poorly written, I don't think it will have any impact at all.  For many years, there has been a movement, conscious or not, to tear down all things held to be sacred to America.  I don't just mean the flag, I mean something as simple as a documentary on Davy Crockett painting him as a racist, a traitor, a coward; documentaries and books on Thomas Jefferson showing him to be inept, bumbling, racist, and ignorant; claims that our founding fathers were Masons and were therefore somehow evil; claims that the country wasn't really founded on Christian principles, etc, etc.  I suspected this book was meant to do the same thing.  I believe now that I was right, Dan Brown did intend to do that. Unfortunately for him, he spent too much time on his yacht and not enough time at his desk for this book to have any sort of impact.

25) Dan Brown should practice writing conversations.  I know this isn't easy.  But practice it, anyway.  And the classroom discussions were way off base.  The wise professor expounding wisdom while an adoring audience listens rapturously.  One person (usually a Christian) tries to make some point in argument, to which the wise professor gently chides and embarrasses, the person blushes, looks down, and realizes their whole belief system is wrong because the wise professor points out some inane factoid that most kids learn in Sunday school, and presents it as arcane wisdom only he knows.  Sometimes he gets it right, but not usually.  In a previous book, the wise professor converted a troublesome Christian by telling him Jesus was born in March.  I'm not sure where Dan Brown got that one from.  No one knows when he was born.  In this book, it's a girl asking about Masons (Brown hearts Masons).  She brings up points, he shoots them down, and voila, another embarrassed student blushes, looks down, and realizes how evil and foolish she has always been.  And as far as the points he makes about Masons, here's what I say - Who knows if he's got it right?  And who cares?  People aren't nearly as uptight about secret societies as Dan Brown appears to be.

I think Dan Brown writes the conversations as he wishes they would go for him.  Wouldn't it be nice if life were that simple?  If we can easily convert all naysayers with a few words, and never have them come back at you with a better argument?

And lastly, Mr. Brown has long since lost the boundary between himself and his character.  Brown IS Langdon.  In a particularly painful scene early in the book, a woman approaches Langdon and discusses a book Langdon apparently wrote about the sacred feminine - an obvious reference to Mr. Brown's book the Da Vinci Code.  She laugh's at how he sure stirred up trouble with that one.  Brown, I mean Langdon, assures her that wasn't his intention.  We get it, okay?  You didn't mean to cause all that trouble with DVC.  We understand that.  But it's not considered good form to have your characters speak as if they were you.  It's just...weird.  I don't even want to get into his fantasies about all these women he sets himself up with in his books.  One major trick in writing, you have to separate yourself from your character if you want your character to develop.  Otherwise, in your mind the character is fully developed, and you lose the ability to create a person of depth.  Although, since none of the other characters in this book had any depth at all, I don't think that would have worked here.

In conclusion, I don't want you to think I hate Dan Brown's books.  I don't.  I really dislike some of them.  But a couple of them were not bad.  I want readers to remember, however, that he's still a fairly new writer.  This is his fifth book, ever!  I'm not saying that's bad, but don't think he's someone who has been around forever, or has a long history of anything.  The reason I say that is because people often treat him as if he should be a Hemmingway or a Fitzgerald.  I totally disagree.  What I DISlike about Dan Brown or his books has nothing to do with his writing style.  I simply believe that anyone who makes it so far so quickly has been set up for a fall.  How many other writers have had a number one best seller as their fourth book?  His first book, Digital Fortress, was terrible.  No doubt.  It was really one of the bottom 10 books I have read in my life.  His second was better, but still had some fanciful stretches that made it unmemorable.  Angels and Demons, his third, was far too violent for my taste.  But that didn't stop me from reading it twice.  It contained the elements that finally brought Dan Brown into his own.  The symbolism in mythology and religion, the codes and puzzles, were riveting.  It wasn't such a great book that it made it big on it's own.  It was only after The Da Vinci Code that people, like me, went back to read the previous books.  That's when A&D became a bestseller.

So what are we to make of this?  First of all, DVC became a great bestseller because of two things - the theories put forth, and the imaginative murder-mystery plot.  As for the murder-mystery plot, we didn't realize at the time it was a repeat from his previous book.  And we didn't realize it was the only plot Mr. Brown would ever come up with, so it would be repeated in all his Langdon books.  The other thing, the theories put forth in The Da Vinci Code, they were not Dan Brown's own, but that is one thing that made it great.  They were legitimate theories. Whether true or not, they do date back a few thousand years.  I'm referring, of course, to the supposed marriage of Jesus.

But in The Lost Symbol, I don't know, any mysteries he tried to reveal, it all just feels so...made up.  If you'll pardon my saying so, it's all sort of boneheaded.  Mr. Brown wanted something earthshattering, like DVC, and came up with nothing.  When it's over, I'm not sure there even was any great revelations to the readers of Lost Symbol.  It was so all over the place.  The Masons run the country, the founding fathers were Masons, the Masons aren't bad, it's Christians (once again) who are somehow the blame for...wait, what are they to blame for again?  For the bad guy wanting to kill himself to become a demon?  I don't know, I just feel like there should have been a plot somewhere, a point, that was left out.  I get the idea he was trying to base some hidden something on the fact that a painting and a sculpture showed Washington as a godlike being, as if that's somehow proof that all people two hundred years ago felt he was, or felt he should be, or...oh whatever.  What a mess.

It took six years to come up with this.  To me, the saddest part is that Dan Brown will probably never realize the book is bad at all.  He'll point to the sales, remind people of his vast fortune, and apparently ignore all editors who oppose him or hire only yes-men.  Promoters, journalist, and others will flock to him, do stories on him, make over the wonderful symbolism revealed about our nation's capital, whilst never having even read the book, or caring.  Mr. Brown will, I hope, continue writing.  Me, however, I will not read the next one until after I read the reviews.  And not the NYT or others that somehow feel the need to slobber up to him while not feeling the need to actually read the book.  The fact that currently Amazon reviews for this book list more one-star reviews than any other rating, that should speak volumes.  I wish Mr. Brown would say "Just kidding, here's the real book."

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