Month: June 2013

Brown’s “Inferno” Not as Hot as the Title Suggests

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Inferno by Dan Brown

4 star

4 Stars

Reading a thriller like Dan Brown’s Inferno is a highly anticipated event. It is, after all, the latest in a string of bestsellers featuring renowned Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon, who somehow every few years manages to unravel a cryptic mystery that threatens to shatter fundamental human beliefs. I read Inferno expecting another book on par with Brown’s The Da Vinci Code but was left wanting.

In the first scene Langdon wakes up delirious in a hospital in Florence, Italy following an attack leaves him with a case of amnesia. Langdon narrowly escapes being killed by an assassin in the hospital with the help of a woman named Sienna. Langdon embarks with her help on a quest to learn why he is in injured in Florence when his last memory was teaching days before at Harvard. Disturbing flashbacks bedevil the professor, and unknown assailants on their trail ready to capture or kill him prompt Langdon and Sienna to flee for their lives. A trail of cryptic clues leads the pair into a mystery inspired by Dante Alighieri’s seven levels of hell from his classic allegory Inferno. As they delve deeper into the puzzle, Langdon and Sienna realize that they are unwitting participants in a plot to unleash a monster on humankind – unless they can stop it in time.

Brown’s books are well-researched and filled with colorful background about the fascinating locales where his stories are set. His descriptions of historical sites and artifacts in Florence, Venice, and Istanbul are superb. Inferno may very well be one of the best guidebooks on Florence’s hidden treasures that I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, Brown’s attention to detail and endless need to offer broad explanations at every turn dogged his thriller. Langdon may very well have a tendency to gawk at Renaissance Art, but when the villains are in hot pursuit, one wonders whether he should have enough sense to ignore a Michelangelo masterpiece he’s seen many times before.

Inferno left me suspending belief even more than Brown’s previous outings. How Langdon finds himself in the center of controversies time and again and lives to tell about it is a cryptic mystery in and of itself. Brown overhypes controversy yet again – this time transhumanist activism, and genetic engineering, and the prospect of a Malthusian catastrophe – you’ll know what I mean when you read the novel. He presents a speculative vision of the future that even the most diehard futurist would be hard pressed to embrace.

Inferno is another solid outing from Brown, but it feels formulaic and lacks the pizzazz of his earlier novels. I give it four stars and recommend it to loyal fans of entertaining thrillers. If Brown continues the Langdon story arc, I hope that he considers avoid the tired themes he’s already overused. Perhaps it’s time for Brown to make Langdon himself the puzzle and let him unravel his own past.

Inferno is now available at:



J.A. Schneider’s “Embryo” Engineers an Intensely Entertaining Story

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Embryo by J.A. Schneider

5 star

5 Stars


13641641J.A. Schneider’s debut novel Embryo takes you on an emotional high-speed chase through its pages that’s apt to leave you needing medical assistance – to understand fully the nature of bioscience and genetic engineering, that is. It’s a superb medical thriller with a surprise ending that will infect even the most pre-med reader with a curious case of “Could this really happen?”

The story’s protagonist, Jill Raney, a sharp and inquisitive intern who works at a large medical center in New York City, discovers a suspicious pattern of chromosomal abnormalities in pregnant patients and a fetus that died under the hospital’s care. Brushing aside the protestations and admonishments of her superiors and her love interest, Jill digs further and uncovers a shocking secret in the bowels of the hospital’s renowned fertility and genetic engineering facility. What ensues is a thrilling race against time as she tries to get to the bottom of the terrifying mystery and halt the bloodshed before more patients – or she – fall victims to the terror lurking in the hospital’s corridors.

The novel’s fast pace and plot twists left me turning the pages to keep up with Jill and her next move. The ending’s unexpected conclusion tied up loose ends and set the scene for a sequel. Embryo tackles the thorny issue of genetic engineering with a deft hand. The author avoids moralizing about playing god but challenges readers to consider the moral and ethical implications of biological engineering in an intense, entertaining story. A former staffer at Newsweek Magazine who can tell a story worthy of news headlines, Schneider demonstrates a solid grasp of the medical field and the ability to simplify technical concepts in a way even a novice can understand.

If I have any quibbles about the book, it’s that its medical terminology – such as abruptio plancentae – sent me scurrying to look them up in an outside source. Although the author did a fair job of explaining the term in the story without bogging it down, a reader with little knowledge of primary care medicine and epidemiology may be left struggling to understand what’s happening.

Schneider has written a gem of a book. I give Embryo five stars and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys medical thrillers. You’ll be left looking forward to reading more.

Embryo is now available at: