Book Review: Author spins religion in best-selling thriller

With “The Da Vinci Code” becoming a worldwide obsession, readers are hungrily grasping for more clandestine controversy and mystical plot. Dan Brown, the highly praised author of the country’s No. 1 bestseller, has done it again. Or rather, he already did it.

Virtually unknown until the rapid success of his latest novel, Brown is the author of three other thrillers that precede the much aggrandized “Da Vinci Code.” As the eye-catching cover states, “Before The Da Vinci Code was broken, the world lay at the mercy of Angels and Demons.” Prior to the unveiling of the Priory of Scion and the secrets of Leonardo DaVinci, Brown was already delving into the mysteries of ancient brotherhoods and the darkest corners in the labyrinth of Catholicism.

“Angels and Demons” is both a love story and a mystery novel, starring none other than renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. A haughty projection of the author’s own egotism, Langdon pilots the novel like a modern-day superhero, dodging inevitable tragedy, deciphering cryptic codes and accomplishing the impossible. Before his rendezvous at the Paris Louvre, this omniscient professor is called to Geneva, Switzerland, to investigate a brutal murder. Scientist and Catholic priest Leonardo Vetra lies dead and tortured, with a scalding ambigram seared into his naked chest. The word “Illuminati” is a primordial signature referencing “the world’s oldest and most powerful satanic cult.” As one of the greatest enemies of the Catholic Church, the Illuminati included many of history’s most notorious revolutionaries, such as prized member Galileo Galilei.

Vetra’s scientific research aimed to bridge the expansive gap between science and religion. “Science and religion are not at odds, science is simply too young to understand,” as he put it. Conveniently, Vetra was murdered before he could reveal his sacred research to the world – he had scientifically proven the existence of God. Vetra and his daughter Vittoria had concocted a dangerously powerful substance known as antimatter, and when the Illuminati murdered Vetra, they also absconded a large sample of this deadly substance. In a terrorist act against the Church, the Illuminati proceeded to hide the explosive antimatter at the heart of Catholicism – Vatican City. Together, Langdon and Vittoria race against time and across Rome in an attempt to save religion and the world from the sadistic retaliation of the Illuminati.

The heart of this thriller lies in the timeless battle between religion and science. Brown’s approach to the topic is intriguing, yet overworked. Leaving nothing up to the imagination, he has personified his ideas and opinions in an excessively literal way. Like his other novels, “Angels and Demons” is a popular read primarily for its plot. Paralleling the structure of “The Da Vinci Code” almost exactly, “Angels and Demons” mirrors Brown’s later works with its fast-paced story and engrossingly detailed plot; yet, it lacks significant character development and the eloquent writing of truly good fiction.

“Angels and Demons” is an engaging thriller, void of a true message, yet overflowing with artistic reference, religious facts and historic mystery. It is apparent that Brown spent many years researching the trivial facts filling his novel. Why then, did he neglect to further develop his stereotypical characters and elementary storytelling style? In the spirit of a good mystery, and to quote the author himself, “Maybe the questions are more powerful than the answers.”

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