Assessing Dan Brown from a literary perspective seems almost beside the point. No matter what the critics might say about his overwriting, his overuse of clichés, his paper-thin characterizations, and his impenetrably murky plots, Brown sells tens of millions of copies of every historical thriller-mystery he writes. Brown isn’t just a novelist; he’s a crossover pop culture sensation.
What’s to be said about “Inferno”? Compared with Brown’s last novel, the schlocky, silly, and badly constructed “The Lost Symbol,” his latest feels like a literary masterpiece. It seems that Brown has been learning some things about writing prose. Where he’d use three weak adjectives to describe something in “The Lost Symbol,” in “Inferno” he’ll use one, and it’s the right one. Where Brown gave us endless character monologues of a dozen or so pages each, basically dumping all his research onto the page and letting the poor reader sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly, in “Inferno” Brown offers us strong dialogue, details, and back story in digestible chunks that don’t take readers out of the story. While Brown’s writing may never be as taut and muscular as, say, mystery maven Michael Connolly’s, he’s starting to understand that “less is more” in the realm of descriptive prose.