A warning: Abandon all logic, ye who open this book.
Readers of suspense fiction usually know to heed that advice. Suspension of disbelief is a necessary attitude if you're going to enjoy the thrills and chills of a cliffhanger.
Like no author since A. Conan Doyle, Dan Brown has polished that genre to a lucrative sheen beyond most imaginings. Despite all its claptrap, implausibility and embarrassingly bad writing, "The Da Vinci Code" still posts sales figures in the stratosphere, a fact that defies logic as well.
Now comes the successor, "The Lost Symbol." Brown fans can be reassured that nothing's changed. The geeky explanations, short chapters ending with exclamation marks and clunky sentences that are the only source of laughs in the books are back -- and there's more than 500 pages of them.
"He was missing a hand, was totally bald, dressed in a black robe, sitting in a wheelchair and clutching an ancient knife."
Don't you hate it when your night ends up like that?
And here's one for all the techies out there:
"... the UH-60 had a chassis-mounted, laser-sighted, six gigahertz magnetron with a fifty-dB-gain horn that yielded a ten-gigawatt pulse."
Try whispering those sweet nothings into a receptive ear. Bet you get more than a 10-gig response.
This time, though, the real truth of Dan Brown, like those ancient mysteries his hero Robert Langdon pursues with a straight face, but aren't mysterious at all, blast out like the opening chords of a church organ -- he's an evangelist.
"The Lost Symbol," despite all its Masonic mumbo-jumbo, numerology, superficial science and dubious American history, is nothing short of an exhortation to praise the Lord (take your pick) and pass the hope.
Sure, it's also a defense of Freemasonry, the secret society that in the United States became a social networking club for businessmen, including the Founding Fathers who used its symbolism as decoration for the new republic.
George Washington wore a Masonic get-up at the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol, one of many early leaders who were Masons.
Arcane stuff? Not really. Watchers of the 2004 movie, "National Treasure," received a heavy dose of this early Americana, so "The Lost Symbol" doesn't have the novelty of "Da Vinci" and its secret society, Opus Dei.
The plot? It's nothing more than a gussied-up revenge story with the usual unstoppable psychopath who's out to embarrass 33rd-degree Masons. Don't ask. Just use Wikipedia like Brown's characters do.
There's another "Da Vinci" element missing. In that book, Langdon and his female companion dashed breathlessly (Brown knows no other way to dash) around London and Paris, two fabled cities.
In "The Lost Symbol," Langdon and a new female companion dash breathlessly around Washington, D.C., a place notoriously short on romance -- of the literary kind -- and never get caught in Beltway traffic. Riding the Washington Metro just isn't the same as the Paris one, either, and nobody can convince me the Smithsonian is cooler than the Louvre.
I won't predict the sales figures for "The Lost Symbol"; many people will pick it up because it says "The Da Vinci Code" on the cover rather than recommending it to friends, one of the factors behind Brown's previous success.
Using "good" as a relative term, the new Brown isn't as good as the old one. Like the alchemists he loves to mention, Brown's magic at first looks sensational, but it turns to dross once the fireworks fizzle.