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Good...By Brown's Standards
on 21 February 2015
Before there was the huge sales success that was “The Da Vinci Code”, there was “Angels and Demons”. Although “Angels & Demons” only came to prominence thanks to the attention and sales “The Da Vinci Code” generated, it had been written and published first. Strangely, I find it to be the best of the three (including his latest, “The Lost Symbol”) Robert Langdon novels thus far, perhaps because it was written without the same weight of expectation hanging over it.
In Switzerland, a prominent scientist who is working on anti-matter is found murdered, with a strange symbol burned into his chest. His recent experiment, which is capable of blowing up an entire city if not taken care of, has been stolen and has been hidden somewhere in Vatican City. The symbol is noticed by Robert Langdon as being the calling card of a group known as the Illuminati, long thought to have died out.
The Illuminati are traditional enemies of the church and so the trail leads to Vatican City where four senior cardinals have vanished on the eve of conclave, which will select a new Pope. Robert Langdon must follow the clues left by former scientists and artists around Rome to try and stop the cardinals being murdered and to try and locate the anti-matter before it destroys the Vatican.
As with all of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books, the pace of things is kept very high. Here, with a cardinal due to be killed every hour, there are a number of clues that need to be followed before each deadline and this keeps the story moving very quickly. The main characters dash around the city of Rome following the clues, whilst others dash around Vatican City looking for the anti-matter bomb. Even the arguments held in conclave and among the Swiss Guard seem to move quite quickly. Frequent switches of perspective between the various locations and plots help keep the pace high.
One thing I found reading “The Da Vinci Code” was that some of the clues Langdon had to follow were insultingly easy. Whilst the same may be true here for those with a great knowledge of Rome and art history, without that the clues to be followed here seemed more difficult. With the potential threat to the cardinals putting a time frame on the solutions, this made “Angels and Demons” more exciting to me that either of the other Robert Langdon novels.
The one downside, as I’ve found with all of Brown’s novels, is the poor characterisation. Very few of the characters have a huge amount of depth and this does make it difficult to become too involved with them. Whilst the story makes the threat the cardinals are under seem real, the lack of involvement in them as people means it’s difficult to care too much and this takes the edge off. The original victim’s daughter Vittoria Vetra is along for the ride and, again as usual for Brown, she is never well developed and thus some of her actions are inexplicable, especially at the end, as they seem to have come from nowhere.
Despite this, I found Angels and Demons to be an entertaining read, if not a brilliant one. It certainly appealed to me more than the other books of his I’ve read, although there’s nothing here that makes me want to read it again. There are worse books you could find for next to nothing, but there are also far better. This is the kind of book that you can read on the beach and then happily leave there.
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