BOOK REVIEW Our Favorite Harvard Code Breaker Is Back

Dan Brown Sends Robert Langdon on a Journey in ‘The Lost Symbol’

2371 lostsymbol
The Lost Symbol is Dan Brown’s new conspiracy thriller set in Washington, D.C.

The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown

Doubleday Books

September 15, 2009

$19.95 at MIT Coop

The famously controversial author of The Da Vinci Code has succeeded in crafting a fascinating and suspenseful adventure brimming with new secrets, new twists and turns, and a refreshingly interesting — if not far-fetched — concept. Released on Sept. 15, this newest installment, The Lost Symbol, takes the reader on a harrowing thrill ride to uncover secrets in ancient mysticism and Masonic tradition. Despite some small imperfections, it delivers with a true Dan Brown “can’t-put-the-book-down” style mystery.

This time around, the novel’s setting of Washington, D.C. is much closer to home — but the city is so exotic and layered with symbols in Brown’s beautifully crafted world that it’s easy to take in stride the unbelievable events that unfold there. Brown paints the city as a glorious and mysterious labyrinth of stately, historic buildings and hidden tunnels; a city whose echoes of grandeur are superimposed upon endless facades of masked meaning and ancient symbology. One of Brown’s strengths as a writer is his ability to recreate a world everyone thinks they know into one that keeps you guessing. In this case, he brings D.C. to life in an utterly elegant and unique way, providing a fitting backdrop for the dramatic events to follow.

And the drama is relentlessly page-turning — from Masonic death rituals and brutal screwdriver murders to waterboarding, it’s not hard to go a hundred pages without putting the book down. The villain behind the chaos is both brutal and sinister, and his plot to uncover a secret guarded among the highest echelons of Masonry results in a melange of blood, code-breaking, research into ancient ideologies, and late-night CIA chases. In one particularly hair-raising scene, a principal character, is locked alone in a large, dark space with his antagonist. Drawing the same chills as The Silence of the Lamb’s famous pitch-black climax between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice, the resulting blind game of cat and mouse is alarmingly heart-pounding.

And yes, there are minor flaws: The conclusion is not as profound as the one in The Da Vinci Code, and at some points I found myself slightly perturbed by one thing or another, but none of that detracts from the enjoyment I found in this novel. Brown’s back-and-forth writing style of switching between plot lines captivates the reader for large sections at a time. Even a snag in one plot strand is quickly resolved to reveal a more fluid sub-plot lying underneath.

But the most endearing element of Brown’s carefully crafted story is main character Robert Langdon’s rich knowledge of symbology and his mastery of uncovering secrets. The reader sympathizes with Langdon, who himself is (thankfully) incredulous of many of the less-believable clues he finds, making the thrill of watching him progress through the symbols and riddles all the more real. With Langdon at its helm, The Lost Symbol delivers, as a one-of-a-kind intellectual and literal adventure that is more than worthy of any fun-loving reader’s attention.