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Book Review - The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Ancient Mysteries
The Lost Symbol
Dan Brown

Published by Doubleday

Review by W. R. Greer

After the incredibly successful and controversial The Da Vinci Code, it's probably too much to expect for Dan Brown to duplicate the same formula in The Lost Symbol. He gives it the old college try, though.

Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist who was Dan Brown's protagonist in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, is back. He's called to Washington, D.C. on the spur of the moment to give a speech in the Capitol Building. The request ostensibly comes from his old friend and mentor, Peter Solomon. Solomon comes from old money and power and is a leader in the Freemasons. Langdon agrees to the request, only to find that the invitation was a hoax. Not only is there no speech to give, but the only evidence of Peter Solomon's presence in the Capitol is his severed hand. It's found in the center of the Capitol Rotunda, tattooed with symbols from the Ancient Mysteries, and the hand is pointing to the ceiling.

This lets Dan Brown do what he does best. It provides him with the opportunity, via Robert Langdon, to explore arcane knowledge of Washington, D.C. and to educate us about the Masons and their influence on the Founding Fathers as well as today's leaders. As Langdon struggles to understand the clues left by the severed hand, he explains the little he does know to Capitol security and the CIA, who treat him in an unfriendly manner. Solving a few of these clues take them to parts of the Capitol that even Langdon never knew about. The game is on and there is only a finite amount of time to find the answers that will save Peter Solomon's life.

The evildoer in The Lost Symbol is a man in search of ultimate power, Mal'akh (the name of an angel in the Hebrew Bible). He has covered almost his entire body with tattoos, undergone self-castration, and devoted himself to studying and mastering all the ancient arts that will allow him to become one with the gods. The Masons believe they protect the Ancient Mysteries, those powerful and mystic secrets that mankind is not mature enough to handle yet. Mal'akh believes the Masonic Pyramid, which will lead to the hiding place of this supernatural force, is in Washington, D.C. If Langdon doesn't help Mal'akh solve all the mysteries and clues that reveal where this treasure trove of power is hidden, then Peter Solomon will die.

A parallel storyline develops with Katherine Solomon, Peter's sister, who is a scientist studying noetics. She has performed experiments that prove thoughts have mass, and as such, can be concentrated to affect the physical world. While Langdon is exploring the Capitol, Mal'akh has time to try to murder Katherine and destroy her laboratory. He's afraid her research will make the supernatural power he craves available to any mere mortal. Eventually, Katherine and Langdon join forces and they're pursued by the CIA. With time always appearing to be running out, Katherine and Langdon dash among some of the most famous buildings in Washington, D.C., giving Langdon a few moments to comment on their history and the symbolic meaning of their paintings, statues, and architectural details.

Anyone who has read and enjoyed The Da Vinci Code will wonder how The Lost Symbol stands up in comparison to the novel that made Dan Brown famous. The answer is not very well. The main difference is pace. The Da Vinci Code began immediately with a corpse and the suspense never flagged until the end. Dan Brown mixed in enough esoteric information, ancient clues, and conspiracy theories to keep the reader hooked as Langdon managed to stay one step ahead of those who wanted to stop him.

The Lost Symbol starts slowly. Peter Solomon's hand isn't discovered until many chapters into the book. There are bursts of thrilling suspense only to have everything slow to a more somnambulist pace as Mal'akh's story is told or Katherine Solomon is working in her lab. These stops and starts are frustrating. Neither Mal'akh nor Katherine ever becomes that interesting. When the novel revolves around Langdon, it moves sharply while Langdon decodes clues and throws out historical information. About halfway through the book, the story takes off, and for 200 pages, you don't want to put the book down. Dan Brown knows how to make a thriller chilling and interesting.

The ending is disappointing. The climax occurs well before the end, and Dan Brown goes on for way too many pages exploring the final mysteries of the Masons in Washington, D.C. Instead of heaving a sigh of contentment as the book is closed, many readers will be left with the reaction, "That's it?" The best part of any Dan Brown book is that he makes you believe that the newly found secrets, the forgotten or hidden histories, and the conspiracies just might be true. At the end of The Lost Symbol, though, you're left not really caring whether they were true or not.

The Lost Symbol is not a bad read and very enjoyable for large parts of it. It doesn't live up to the standard set by The Da Vinci Code, and it would wrong of anybody to expect that. Dan Brown may write clunky prose at times, but you can forgive that when the thriller is running at full tilt. When the plot sags, that same prose grates on your nerves. If you think The Da Vinci Code was overblown and famous for all the wrong reasons, you won't enjoy The Lost Symbol. If you loved The Da Vinci Code, then you will enjoy some of Dan Brown's new novel. Just don't set your expectations too high.

Copyright © 2009

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Read our review of The Da Vinci Code.

Read our review of Angels & Demons.

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