Inferno by Dan Brown
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:
Embryo by J.A. Schneider
J.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:
Thirst by L.A. Larkin
I’ve been a fan of Antarctica thrillers since John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film “The Thing” kept me up at night for a week after I watched it. In her nail-biting thriller “Thirst,” Author L.A. Larkin taps a similar vein of man (and woman) versus the unknown in the dreaded white and often hellish isolation of Antarctica. Her story about an attack on an Australian research station near Pine Island Glacier by terrorists offers spine-chilling suspense that rivals the frozen dread haunting “The Thing.” When the terrorists attack the station and kill most of its inhabitants in a secret operation to exploit the protected continent’s resources, it falls on maverick glaciologist Luke Searle and station leader Maddie Wildman to stop their attackers from committing an unthinkable act that will devastate Antarctica and the world.
The author writes in an easy-to-read, fast-paced style that makes this thriller a breeze to read. An environmental specialist who visited Antarctica to gather research for this book, Larkin paints a realistic portrayal of Antarctica. The combination of the two results in one of the more unique novels I’ve read in a setting infrequently used in the genre. The action is relentless with some scenes that help make the main characters more realistic. One can sense the animosity between Luke and Maddie that softens as the novel progresses. While the evolution of their relationship is predictable, it’s still plausible. The penultimate chapter could have been written for a James Bond movie, while the final one brings the story to a close that makes the reader wish it would continue.
If I have any qualms about the story, it’s the overuse of stereotypes. Although their Chinese ethnicity is a change from the stereotypical “bad guy” found in so many thrillers, the villains are caricaturized at times with bloodthirsty ambitions for power, inhuman cruelty, and issues with filial piety that leaves no room for redeeming traits. While this is no different than endless stories featuring villains who lack personality, making them more multi-dimensional would have improved the book.
“Thirst” is a great read. I give it five stars and recommend it to anyone looking to read a thriller off the beaten path (in this case, Antarctica), an environmental-themed story, or an action-packed novel with shades of “The Thing” and James Bond’s “Die Another Day.”
Thirst is now available at: