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Dimly burning Inferno

PUTTING aside the monolithic quality of Dan Brown's success, is his writing any good? Is this a question that can even be asked at this stage, and answered without being influenced by the sheer numbers of books the man has sold (around 200m). Does it come down to Brown-bashing, or is there a case to be made for the worth of these bestsellers as well-wrought works?

Yes and no. The thing about a Dan Brown book is that it is predictable. The first third-to-half is a tightly plotted rollercoaster ride of a narrative, in which all the expository information – who's here, why they're here, and what they want – is masterfully doled out in fairly heart-stoppy fashion.

And then you get to the middle part where the air goes out of it entirely. Robert Langdon and his hottie- sidekick-du-book have yet again eluded the pursuit of the fill-in-the-blank baddies.

codes

The goal this time is to stop a virus that threatens to wipe out a significant proportion of the world's population. Langdon is given endless opportunity to display his astonishing ability to decipher codes, which at this stage is the laziest way in literature to drive a story forward.

His know-it-all pedanticism is tiresome, and despite Brown's grasp of the zeitgeist and breadth of knowledge, you've read it all before.

There are a few other authors attempting to knock Brown off his perch as master of the supernatural conspiracy thriller.

ANGELFALL by Susan Ee Hodder & Stoughton (2013) €10 *****

THIS was self-published in 2012, and following internet sensation-ship, has now been published by a big imprint. Ee's tale is as supernatural as anything that Brown has written and as well plotted – in many ways, a superior work of storytelling. A post-apocalyptic world under attack by a celestial crowd who put the 'exterminating' into angel, Penryn is on the run with the enemy, an angel she saved from death, while rushing to save her little sister and trying to keep her paranoid schizophrenic mother in one piece. Despite a bit of The Hunger Games deja vu, Ee proves to have constructed a world that I want to read more of, and her narrative has all the pace and thrill of anything like Brown's, except she doesn't resort to pedantic lecturing. The angel is totally sexy, and Penryn is tough as old boots – that's a recipe for romance if ever I've seen one. Next one's out in October.

THE CLEANER OF CHARTRES by Salley Vickers Penguin (2013) €11.45 ** ................................................................................... VICKERS has trod down the angelic path herself in the past, and seems to be encroaching on Brown territory with her tale about the legendary French cathedral, long a testament to medieval coding. Here, the story is surprisingly quotidian, a stranger-in-town tries to acclimate in the community, pretty much does so, until she enrages a local biddy. The community in Chartres is good guy v bad guy – or clean v unclean – which makes for an easy, if unimaginative read. THE NEW WATCH by Sergei Lukyanenko William Heinemann (2013), €17.99 *

POST Cold War Russia plays host to a supernaturally adept lot called Others, who are divided into the Night Watch and the Day Watch. In this fifth book of the series, protagonist Anton Gordetsky has to figure out how to save a new child Prophet from forces that would kill him once his prophecy is spoken. Having read the first four, I was swiftly reminded that I found the author's tone to be chauvinistic and deeply bitter. This did not change my mind.

THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson Cannongate (2009) , €11.50 ***

I FEEL very conflicted about this one. The main character is a smug, narcissistic porn star who suffers a terrible burn in a car accident – due to extreme stoned drunkenness. He is rehabilitated and though it's not necessary to love a character, this leaves him slightly unlikeable.

Nevertheless, the tale is indeed one of redemption, and there are moments of such uplifting clarity that is makes it worth it in the end. Still only three stars, for making us go to hell a la Dante, which I had more than enough of this week.


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