Which brings me to the surest way readers can tell whether they have landed in a Dan Brown novel: A character is dying — a wizened character who is the sole possessor of a crucial piece of knowledge. Rather than using the last minutes of his life to scrawl, “The [IMPORTANT OBJECT] is in the [SPECIFIC LOCATION]” on a crumpled napkin, he uses them to concoct an artsy, esoteric scavenger hunt through a foreign city.
The city in “Inferno” is Florence, where a hospitalized Langdon has awoken with a head wound that leaves him unable to recall how or why he arrived in Italy. Fortunately, his fetching doctor, Sienna — a former child prodigy with an absurd IQ — is willing to sling him on the back of her moped and help him figure it out: retracing his pre-amnesia steps and learning how Dante’s “Divine Comedy” can aid them in foiling the posthumous plot of an evil genius. Discovered in Langdon’s rumpled clothes, see, is a small projector that displays a pictorial rendition of Dante’s vision of Hell.
Meanwhile, three competing entities nip at their heels: an enigmatic female punk assassin, an enigmatic researcher with the World Health Organization and an enigmatic businessman who runs an organization called The Consortium — an MI6/CIA/Blackwater hybrid that specializes in doing complicated things for rich people.
“Fact,” Brown writes in the book’s short preface: “All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.”
But that can’t be right, can it? Not when a simple Wikipedia search tells me that one of the important artifacts is believed to be a reproduction, not the real thing the reader is led to think it is. The Consortium is real, too, Brown writes — and it might be, but would such an organization really have its headquarters in a giant yacht floating around in the Adriatic Sea?
No matter. As with Brown’s other works, it’s more fun to read “Inferno” when you accept that every whoa-ful tidbit is true. Brown is at his best when he makes readers believe that dusty books and musty passageways are just covers for ancient global conspiracies. There is plenty of that in “Inferno” — at one point Langdon laments that he hasn’t seen Michelangelo’s “David” yet on this trip, but the reader would hardly notice. It feels like we’ve seen everything else in the city, at a brisk, engaging clip.