Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

With all the hype surrounding the new Dan Brown novel, you’d expect to achieve orgasmic bliss upon turning the final page. The plot was deemed mega secret, and by some incredible miracle didn’t get leaked onto the Internet forty seconds after the book was announced (apparently God has forgiven Brown for “The DaVinci Code” after all). Film rights were sold for an obscene amount, with Tom Hanks returning- hopefully with a better haircut and his Speedo left in the underwear drawer. Boxes of the novel were shipped tightly taped, with seals forbidding anyone to even think of opening them before 12:01 am on September 15th. A 24 hour toll free number was copiously printed to enable bookstore clerks to rat out their fellow employees whose curiousity got the better of them.

And so with all the fuss and bother the publishing industry could muster, “The Lost Symbol” graced the stalls a minute past the Witching Hour on 9/15. And so the faithful arrived with caffeine coarsing through their veins and clutching $20, at the very least to see what the hell Brown’s been up to for the past several years. And it came to pass they saw Brown’s work, and saw that despite being very long and a bit formulatic, Dan Brown’s still got it. Not perfect, but nicely done.

We’re reintroduced to Robert Langdon, who’s drawn to historical conspiracies that come back to bite us in the ass like Terrell Owen is drawn to alienating most of the NFL. The famed symbologist from Harvard is summoned to the nation’s capital to deliver a lecture on Masonic history by his old mentor Peter Solomon at the prestigius National Statuatory Hall. Apparently, the main attraction has suddenly taken ill and Langdon gets to come off the bench and pinch hit in front of the Smithsonian board. But when Langdon arrives, Mickey Mouse watch securely strapped on his wrist and claustrophobic mental baggage packed, he’s met with a dark and empty gala room.

Not that Solomon doesn’t fail to meet him, his severed limb appears, with Masonic tattoos and pointing skyway-a macabre invitation meant for our hero alone. Langdon’s been horribly deceived, and soon finds himself dealing with a shadowy figure who goes by the name of Mal’akh. Aside from serving the same purpose as the doomed Silas in “The DaVinci Code”, he seems to have taken his fashion sense from Nero in the “Star Trek” reboot and is about as mentally balanced. But Robert Langdon isn’t Mal’akh’s target, he’s set his sights on something far bigger with devestating consequences. But why is he keeping Peter Solomon alive and what purpose will he serve in Mal’akh’s esoteric ritual? Why is a secret branch of the CIA so concerned, and how does Peter’s sister Katherine and her theoretical science play into his plans?

In a departure from his previous Langdon novels, Christianity and the Bible don’t figure into the storyline, at least not directly. But the gnostic Gospel of Mary, the Upanishads, the Zohar, and the Holy Grail are mentioned, as if Brown hasn’t quite gotten over dragging religion into popular fiction. He does stray back into the scifi-ish territory of “Deception Point” with the addition of Katherine Solomon and her research into channeled psychic energy able to affect development in the physical world. Of course, there’s the Masons whose order feature predominantly in the novel. For such a secret organization, there’s tidal wave of detail about them and completing “The Lost Symbol” will probably qualify you to head the local Masonic chapter.

Granted, there are some flaws that a reader can’t help but notice are rather glaring. Langdon always seems to know the ancient academic knowledge useful at that moment, no matter how obscure it may be. There’s some annoying product placement for Google, the Washington Redskins, Langdon’s Blackberry that always seems to have at least three bars, and several texts that Brown neglects to cite in a bibliography. The novel ends at over 500 pages, but the plot lasts over 400 resulting in several scenes feeling stretched out and overly detailed. And when will Robert ditch the Mickey Mose watch and spring for a Rolex?? He’s suppose to be world famous and adored by his students, show some style! By the third novel who really cares what it reminds you of.

But there’s still something that makes “The Lost Symbol” fun, and makes it more than it rightly should be. Brown mixes ancient secrets with 21st Century scifi, and reminds us that mysteries and wonders still exist and right under our noses. The third Langdon novel may not have been worth the security and hype, not to mention the wait that would make Rip Van Winkle impatient, but it’s a breezy escape and lets us know life can still be full of amazement. Welcome back Robert Langdon, warts and all, don’t be gone too long this time.

The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown
Doubleday Books, 2009

Buy Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on Hardcover