Firstly, it should be noted that The Lost Symbol has incorporated all the elements that so transfixed readers in The Da Vinci Code: a complex, mystifying plot (with the reader set quite as many challenges as the protagonist); breathless, helter-skelter pace (James Patterson's patented technique of keeping readers hooked by ending chapters with a tantalisingly unresolved situation is very much part of Dan Brown’s armoury). And, of course, the winning central character, resourceful symbologist Robert Langdon, is back, risking his life to crack a dangerous mystery involving the Freemasons (replacing the controversial trappings of the Catholic Church and homicidal monks of the last book). And while Dan Brown will never win any prizes for literary elegance, his prose is always succinctly at the service of delivering a thoroughly involving thriller narrative in vividly evoked locales (here, Washington DC, colourfully conjured).
Robert Langdon flies to Washington after an urgent invitation to speak in the Capitol building. The invitation appears to have come from a friend with copper-bottomed Masonic connections, Peter Solomon. But Langdon has been tricked: Solomon has, in fact, been kidnapped, and (echoing the grisly opening of the last book) a macabre mutilation plunges Langdon into a tortuous quest. His friend’s severed hand lies in the Capitol building, positioned to point to a George Washington portrait that shows the father of his country as a pagan deity. The ruthless criminal nemesis here is another terrifying figure in Brown’s gallery of grotesques: Mal’akh, a powerfully built eunuch with a body festooned with tattoos. Mal’akh is seeking a Masonic pyramid that possesses a formidable supernatural power, and a pulse-pounding hunt is afoot, with Langdon stalled rather than aided by the CIA.
Caveats are pointless here; Dan Brown, comfortably the world’s most successful author, is utterly review-proof. And there's no arguing with the fact that he has his finger on the pulse of the modern thriller reader, furnishing the mechanics of the blockbuster adventure with energy and invention. Like its predecessor, The Lost Symbol will unquestionably be--in fact, already is--a publishing phenomenon. --Barry Forshaw