Reviewed By Janet Maslin
One of the theories espoused by Dan Brown’s new book is that when many people share the same thought, that thought can have physical effects. Let’s test it on Tuesday. Watch what happens to bloggers, booksellers, nitpickers, code crackers, conspiracy theorists, fans and overheated search engines when “The Lost Symbol,” Mr. Brown’s overdue follow-up to “Angels & Demons” (2000) and “The Da Vinci Code” (2003), finally sees the light of day.
As a man whose ideas have had their share of physical effects, Mr. Brown is well aware of how widely read and closely scrutinized “The Lost Symbol” will be. He even lets a character joke about this book’s guaranteed popularity. Dr. Katherine Solomon specializes in noetic science, with its focus on mind-body connections. She admits that her field is not widely known. But when her story comes out, she suggests, noetics could get the kind of public relations bump that Mr. Brown gave to the Holy Grail.
Dr. Solomon accompanies Robert Langdon, the rare symbologist who warrants the word dashing as both adjective and verb, through much of this novel, his third rip-snorting adventure. As Browniacs have long predicted, the chase involves the secrets of Freemasonry and is set in Washington, where some of those secrets are built into the architecture and are thus hidden in plain sight. Browniacs also guessed right in supposing that “The Lost Symbol” at one point was called “The Solomon Key.” That’s a much better title than the generic one it got.
So much for safe predictions. What no one could guess, despite all advance hints about setting and subject matter, was whether Mr. Brown could recapture his love of the game. Could he still tell a breathless treasure-hunt story? Could he lard it with weirdly illuminating minutiae? Could he turn some form of profound wisdom into a pretext for escapist fun? By now his own formula has been damaged by so much copycatting that it’s all but impossible for anyone to get it right.
Too many popular authors (Thomas Harris) have followed huge hits (“The Silence of the Lambs”) with terrible embarrassments (“Hannibal”). Mr. Brown hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s bringing sexy back to a genre that had been left for dead.