Monday, April 24, 2006

Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

(hb; 2000: first book in the Robert Langdon series)

From the inside cover:

“When world-renown Harvard symbiologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol – seared into the chest of a murdered physicist – he discovers the evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient brotherhood known as the Illuminati... the most power underground organization to ever walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy – the Catholic Church.

“Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican’s holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of the Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival...”


Blend James Bond with some art history, religion and philosophy, and this is what a you get: a pot boiler that’s simultaneously dumb fun (imagine Michael Bay filming this) and a clever, often humorous historical fiction piece.

Langdon is more akin to Ian Fleming’s literary Bond than the cinematic version of Bond (i.e., he doesn’t sleep with every woman he meets), and is an intellectual with an awareness of pop culture. Vetra is interchangeable with some of the smarter “Bond girls” (Gala Brand from Moonraker comes to mind).

This visually-spectacular work is full of non-stop action and twists (most of them obvious – as are the bad guys), with little character development... no biggie, in a thrill vehicle like this.

Passages about art and religious history (providing improbable backstory) pop up often, giving a crazed legitimacy to the set-up. Some on-line reviewers bitched about these passages, but I found them more interesting than the actual story – until the end, when one prominent character devolves into speechifying.

Brown heaps on too many twists at the end, many of them hackneyed, almost ruining the novel. The ending comes straight out of a James Bond film (save one – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).

Fun, dumb, and hard to put down, Angels & Demons is something to burn through at the beach, nothing more.

Followed by The Da Vinci Code.


The film version of Angels & Demons is scheduled for stateside release on May 15, 2009.

Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon. Ewan McGregor plays Carlo Ventresca. Stellan Skarsgård plays Richter. Ayelet Zurer plays Vittoria Vetra. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Straus.

Ron Howard is set to direct, from a script by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman.

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