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Saturday 3 October 2009

The book of the film: Angels and Demons

Though this was written before the million-bestseller The Da Vinci Code, and features the same hero, Robert Langdon, it was filmed after Da Vinci. Naturally, since Da Vinci was Dan Brown’s breakout novel. I’ve come to Angels and Demons after reading Da Vinci, so my observations are affected by that.

Angels and Demons is a better book, and more original in concept. In essence, Da Vinci seems to be utilising the same template of Angels. A bizarre death complete with arcane symbols requires the presence of Langdon. There are seemingly endless expositions on various aspects of the symbols and the history pertaining to them. Langdon teams up with a young woman who is ‘related’ to the deceased. The person who calls in Langdon becomes a strong suspect. A final twist reveals a seemingly ‘good’ individual to be the actual perpetrator behind the scheme and the deaths.

Most books – and films – tend to rely on setting one deadline for the protagonists to beat. Brown isn’t content with one deadline – he has six. Cleverly orchestrated, they get the reader turning the pages.

Langdon is called in when it’s discovered that physicist Leonardo Vetra has been murdered, the sign of the Illuminati burned into his chest. The Illuminati organisation was presumed extinct some 400 years ago. The murder takes place in CERN, of all places. The DG, Maximilian Kohler wants Langdon to get to the bottom of the mystery and hasn’t called in the police yet, as he’s worried about the bad publicity. Vetra’s adopted daughter Vittoria has worked on antimatter with the physicist and they now discover that a considerable quantity of that devastating material has been stolen. As she is the only person who can make the material safe, Vittoria teams up with Langdon as their trail takes them to Rome – where else?

The Vatican is beginning the process of electing a new pontiff. Meanwhile, to mind the shop, Carlo Ventresca, the late pope’s camerlengo runs the show. Soon, they learn that four cardinals, the favourites for selection, have been kidnapped and will be killed at hourly intervals at specific but unnamed spots in Rome. It’s up to Langdon and Vittoria to find the cardinals as the deadlines count down…

The tension rarely lets up – despite the dense paragraphs of exposition. Yes, the whole thing is contrived, but it works. And the film is better in many respects, eschewing some of the more fanciful escapades of Langdon, while amalgamating characters and dropping some characters’ involvement with red herrings.

Considering Brown has taught creative writing, his prose sometimes lapses. When Langdon is shown to a private jet, he is ‘motioned up the gangplank’ – shiver my timbers, perhaps steps or gangway, but not gangplank!

I lost count of the times Langdon’s eyes performed surreal acts; here are two examples: ‘Langdon let his eyes climb.’ And, ‘Langdon’s eyes crossed the courtyard…’ And his characters don’t look up, they look ‘skyward.’

He has the annoying knack of author intrusion – way beyond the information dumping. ‘He never suspected that later that night, in a country hundreds of miles away, the information would save his life.’ As we’re reading this chapter from his point of view, he can’t know he never suspects…! And, ‘The horrifying answer was only a moment away.’ These insertions are not foreshadowing but blatant attempts to provide cliff-hanging ends of chapters.

Written in 2000, Brown might have been prescient. He mentions Woodrow Wilson’s warning in 1921 of a ‘growing Illuminati control over the US banking system. Beside the fact that 1921 isn’t 400 years ago, it begs the question, were the Illuminati involved in the sub-prime collapse of 2008? He also had praise for the BBC, where ‘every story they ran was carefully researched and confirmed.’ Despite a certain bias, of course…

These are mere quibbles. If you haven’t read Angels, give it a try. It’s fast-paced, intriguing and never lets up. Great entertainment with dashes of eloquence and poignancy.


Barbara Martin said...

I have this book sitting in the bottom of my bookcase among others waiting for the ARCs to be finished first. Thanks for an excellent review, Nik.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks, Barbara. Despite the glitches in his prose etc, I think you'll enjoy it.

Randy Johnson said...

I haven't read the new book, but I discovered a disturbing trend making my way through the other four. Da Vinci was first, followed by Angels & Demons, then Deception Point, and Digital Fortress.

All four had that twist of a seeming good guy being the villain driving the whole plot. The only variation I found was the "good guy" disappears halfway through the book, presumed killed, only to reappear at the end for the final showdown.

I have no reason to expect anything different in the new book, so I won't be reading that one.

Randy Johnson said...

That's disappears in two of the books. Sorry.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks for the comments, Randy. I don't fancy reading yet another DB for quite a while - as you say, he seems to deliver more of the same, though in a page-turning manner. By the 20th Tarzan book, I was getting a bit fed up with our hero tripping up over yet another lost city - Africa's obviously littered with them - but I'm still very fond of the early books. Maybe the same will be said of Dan Brown, in years to come?