Tag Archives: Dan Brown

The Intel: Wendy Walker

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Photo: Bill Miles

Crime novelists have long been fascinated by memory and amnesia, and in recent years gripping psychological thrillers in which heroes and heroines struggle to remember terrible crimes have become a staple of the bestseller lists.

Now, in her thriller All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker has come up with a terrific high-concept idea that turns the genre completely on its head. Her debut novel has been getting rave reviews and the movie rights has already been snapped up by Hollywood star Reece Witherspoon.

In Wendy’s crime debut, Jenny’s parents will do anything to protect their 15-year-old daughter when she’s the victim of a brutal attack. Using experimental treatment, Jenny’s memories have been wiped so she is freed from trauma and able to move on with her life.

Except now Jenny lives with an unknown fear, a scar on her back that she cannot stop touching, and the knowledge of a violation that she cannot get justice for. Not to mention the fact that her father is obsessed with finding her attacker and her mother is in toxic denial.

With the help of a puppet-master psychiatrist – whose motives may not be benign – the only way Jenny can move on and identify her attacker is to go back into those memories. But even if it can be done, pulling at the threads of her suppressed experience threaten to destroy much more than the truth about her attack.

A novel about the painful choice of forgetting a destructive experience or seeking justice, Wendy came up with the idea when she read about an experimental PTSD treatment. She  carried out extensive research into the latest studies in memory science and worked with a practising therapist to present Jenny’s traumatic journey.

In this fascinating intel, Wendy – a generous and engaging interviewee – discusses the article that launched her thriller, trauma therapy, our fascination with memory – and the way all our experiences shape us. And she talks about the leap of faith that led her to write the novel…

Tell us about Jenny…

Jenny Kramer is a bright, athletic teenage girl whose idyllic life takes an abrupt turn after she is assaulted at a local high school party. With little time to decide, her parents choose to give her a course of drugs that erase her memory of the attack. She awakes with no memory of the factual events, but this does not mitigate the emotional impact of this horrific crime. As time passes, she is tormented by the emotional memory that lives inside of her, and the knowledge that she has been violated by someone who could very well live among them in their small town. Her journey drives the plot of the novel.

All Is Not Forgotten is a terrific high-concept idea – how did you come up with it?

I read an article back in 2010 in the New York Times about memory science and the treatment of trauma to reduce PTSD. I thought that this type of treatment, if applied to survivors of crime, could create some incredibly difficult decisions and moral dilemmas. When I started to write the novel years later, the research into memory had exploded and scientists were marching toward the possibility of being able to target and alter (or even erase) factual memory, not just the emotional component. I decided to take the concept to this end – to go to the time and place when this possibility had been realized – and explore what that would mean for the survivor of a horrific crime. I think it raises some incredibly interesting issues.

What is it about suppressed memories, about forgotten horrors, that so fascinates us as readers?

Most of us have had the experience of someone from our past remembering a shared event differently, and insisting that her or she is right and we are wrong. It is very unsettling to consider the possibility that our memories are not static – that they are constantly being altered and are therefore less reliable than we thought. So much of who we are is about our past experiences and those experiences are held by these memories that we now know may not be as true as we believed. It raises questions that go to our very identity as individuals.

Additionally, the thought of being able to target and erase a memory is a fascinating question to ponder. What memories would you choose to erase? What would be lost if you did? This issue, I believe, goes to our very humanity. Are we just a sum total of the factual memories we carry in our minds? And if we can erase what we don’t like, what would the world be like? These questions, for me, are deeply profound.

AINF jacket finishedYou worked with a therapist to present the journey that many victims of violence go through – what did you learn about the way we cope with terrible trauma?

Traditionally, trauma therapy has involved talking about the event in a controlled, safe setting with a therapist many, many times until the event loses its power. In a sense, this is not much different from the therapies that are happening now which are based on an understanding of memory science – how memories are recalled and “refilled.” Patients are now given sedatives and other drugs when they recall the event so that when the recalled memory is refilled, the emotional component has been altered to be less traumatic. This is not much different from traditional talk therapy, though some therapists believe it is far more effective.

For traumas resulting from crime, treatment is more complicated. Added to the emotional reaction that took place during the event, survivors of crime also confront the knowledge of being violated, the loss of their bodily integrity and safety, trust, faith in humanity – the list goes on. These factors arise from far more than a factual recollection of an event, and we know from real world events that they exist even in survivors who cannot remember the crime occurring. We also know that participating in the justice process can be very healing for these survivors and this is yet another important consideration when considering memory altering therapies.

Your debut novel has already been snapped by movie-makers and has received amazing reviews – do you feel a pressure now to deliver an even better second book?

Of course! I have been writing for many years, juggling a household of kids, my job as an attorney, and this crazy dream of becoming a successful writer. It has been a long journey and I feel grateful to have the opportunity to have my work out in the world, being read by so many people. I take nothing for granted and intend to honor this opportunity by working as hard as I can to create a really great book worthy of people’s time.

How did you start writing?

I had taken time off from being an attorney to be home with my children, but it was hard not to be doing anything that would further myself professionally. I had never written before or studied writing but I always loved a good story and felt I had some to tell. So I started writing here and there and everywhere (even in the back of my minivan!) any chance I got. Eventually, I had two novels published and was retained to edit for a world-renowned series. I went back to practicing law, but still kept writing, waiting and hoping to find my voice and an audience that wanted to hear it! Last year, my agent encouraged me to switch genres so I could finally write this story, which I had been sitting on for years. I took a huge leap of faith, scaled back my workload for three months, and wrote All Is Not Forgotten.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That sometimes to be successful you have to be willing to set aside something that embodies your time, your heart and soul, even your hopes and dreams, and try something new. You have to listen to the people you have decided to trust to guide you. It was not easy for me to switch genres and write a psychological thriller. I had to close the door on a project I had worked on for two years, during every free moment I could find between my kids and my legal work. But I listened to my agent, opened my computer again, and wrote with blind passion for ten weeks until the book was done. I will never forget this experience and what it taught me about trust, perseverance, and faith.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

John Grisham because he revolutionized suspense novels and put the legal thriller permanently on the map. James Patterson for creating a new standard in the marketing of books with utter brilliance. And Dan Brown for his meticulous research and for creating a story that captivated the entire world. But, honestly, I have been meeting more and more writers, each with a different style, technique, philosophy and voice, and who stare down blank pages and somehow get beyond the self-doubt to keep going – they are my inspiration.

Give me some advice about writing…

First, keep writing. The more you write the better you will get. Don’t allow “writer’s block” to slow you down. Just get something on the page to move the plot along. You can always go back and revise. It’s so easy to get stuck, and there is no way around the self-doubt and anxiety that writers feel. The only way around is through. Second, take advice and be willing to make changes. Don’t get too attached to any character or any plot line. Sometimes other people just don’t get what’s in our heads and we have to be willing to accept that and move on. Finally, surround yourself with people you trust – to read for you and to represent you.

What’s next for you?

I am revising my second thriller about two teenage sisters who disappear one night under mysterious circumstances. Five years later, only one returns to tell the story of where they’ve been and to help the FBI and her sister. The novel is told in two narratives, one from the sister who has returned and one from the forensic psychologist who leads the search for the sister who did not make it out. It is incredibly fun because I have huge twist at the end and I can’t wait to see what readers think!

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All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker is out now in hardback, published by HQ at £12.99.

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The Intel: Ian Caldwell

Ian CaldwellWe don’t just throw stuff at this site and hope for the best, you know. A bit of thought goes into it, a bit of planning and foresight. Not much — a bit. Which is why, this Easter week, we’ve been featuring Ian Caldwell’s The Fifth Gospel, with its Turin Shroud-themed mystery. Caldwell co-wrote the conspiracy The Rule of Four and has spent years researching his latest subject — a theological murder-mystery set in Vatican City.

We’re delighted that Ian has agreed to give us the intel on his latest book. He’s a generous and engaging interviewee, and has some absolutely fascinating stuff to say about the veracity of the carbon-testing on the Shroud, the gospels, the murky history of crime within the walls of the Vatican — and, of course, about writing and researching The Fifth Gospel.

What was the inspiration for The Fifth Gospel?

An enigma of history that I first came upon twelve years ago:  if you close your eyes and conjure a mental image of Jesus Christ, the man you see staring back at you has dark, long hair and a beard.  This is how Jesus has seemingly been painted in Christian art for two thousand years — and yet the truth is that the Bible never tells us how Jesus looked, and there are major discrepancies in early Christian art:  we find Jesus sometimes portrayed with short hair, sometimes beardless, as if no one was quite sure how he looked.  So why is it that, about sixteen centuries ago, the bearded, long-haired Jesus we know today became almost universal?  It’s as though the whole world suddenly became aware of a single image of Jesus so authoritative that all other images were discarded.  So what was that single authoritative image?  The Fifth Gospel found its beginning in that question.

 Vatican City is very much a character in the book itself. It’s a closed and secretive place – did you get much access to its many palaces and offices?

I got much more access than I expected — yet not in the way I expected it.  I’m not Catholic myself, and I began writing The Fifth Gospel at a time when the Church had little interest in talking to a novelist.  American newspapers were full of headlines about the priest abuse crisis, and it certainly didn’t help that my previous novel, The Rule of Four, had frequently been compared to The Da Vinci Code, a book that didn’t win many friends inside the Vatican.  Little by little, though, I convinced a handful of priests that I had done my homework and that I was serious about making The Fifth Gospel meticulously authentic.  They opened up to me, and when they couldn’t answer some of my questions, they referred me to other priests.

What I discovered was that once you have referrals from other clergy, you’ve finally got a foot in the door.  That process repeated itself until I found myself interviewing prelates who were higher and higher on the clerical ladder, some of them who worked (or still work) at the Vatican.  I have been asked by some of them not to divulge their names publicly, but suffice it to say that by the end of my research odyssey, I found very few doors that were closed to me.

​​Did you discover much about crimes that have taken place in the city?

​Oh, yes.  ​Some very strange things have happened on Vatican soil.  When the Vatican jail was first opened in the 1930s, it was because a woman had tried to murder an archbishop in Saint Peter’s Basilica.  In the 1980s, police had to shoot and kill an ax-wielding would-be murderer at the pope’s summer residence.  There have bombings, homicides, and several gruesome symbolic suicides.  Meanwhile, the pope’s employees have perpetrated some very clever, Ocean’s Eleven-style thefts, including one that had police scratching their heads because they couldn’t figure out how a very valuable collection of jewels had been removed from a sealed and locked treasury overnight.  Some of it is wildly outlandish.  If I put it in a novel, you would accuse me of abdicating my responsibility to realism!

The Fifth GospelThe Fifth Gospel took a decade to write – why did it take so long?

​I made a promise to myself that this was going to be the opposite of a stock Vatican thriller.  It was going to be so minutely researched that if I handed it to a Vatican insider, he would say, “How on earth did you find out so much about this place?”  And that’s exactly what has happened.  Many members of the Catholic clergy have come to me with almost that very reaction.​

The Fifth Gospel is a thriller, also very much a book about faith – did you find the conspiracy narrative was the best way to explain theological ideas?

​The most powerful ideas I came across in my research weren’t about Vatican crimes or even the inner workings of Vatican politics​; they were about how modern Catholic priests are trained to read the Bible.  I mentioned earlier that The Fifth Gospel emerged from my curiosity about where our modern image of Jesus came from, but I was so surprised by what I found about the Catholic view of the gospels that the story evolved to include a penetrating look at how those two subjects — Christian art and modern Bible scholarship — are intertwined in a completely unexpected way.  The protagonist of the story is a young priest who is deeply faithful and also a rigorously scientific gospel scholar, a fascinating combination.

Why is the Shroud of Turin – even though it has been exposed as a fake – still such a powerful icon within the church?

​First, it’s important to note that many people dispute the radiocarbon-dating results that found the Shroud to be medieval.  No one seriously doubts that the scientists did their jobs properly, ​but there are many questions about how the cloth sample from the Shroud was taken, what it consisted of, and what extraneous materials were mixed in with it.  In other words, by the time the radiocarbon labs received their samples of the cloth, mistakes may already have been made.

Further complicating the matter, there is documentary evidence from the Middle Ages indicating that a burial-shroud relic was in existence decades before the earliest proposed date from the radiocarbon results on the Shroud of Turin.  Whether or not this was the same relic we have today is hard to say, but these documents are enough to give anyone pause.  I happen to believe the Shroud is a fake, as do many Catholics (even within the clergy), but I also found that the issue is not as clear-cut as we were led to believe when the carbon-dating was performed in 1988.  So there are many reasons the Shroud continues to draw immense crowds whenever it’s displayed.  Aside from what I’ve just mentioned, no one has satisfactorily explained how the image on it was made, at least not in a way that has gained widespread acceptance.  And there are millions of faithful for whom the verdict of science is always subject to reevaluation, while the verdict of faith has proved itself to be more immune to time.

 What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

​I never intended to spend more than a decade writing a single novel.  I deeply love this book, and I’m glad to see that it’s being acknowledged, even within the Catholic hierarchy, for accomplishing something that would’ve been impossible on the timescale of an ordinary novel.  But it also came with hardships for my family because it took so much longer than anticipated.  So by far the most difficult lesson of writing The Fifth Gospel, considering that I began as a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor and finished as a thirty-eight-year-old father of three, was that the artistic risks that are reasonable in those two stations of life are very different.  I learned the hard way that the sacrifices I had no problem embracing as a younger man now apply not just to myself but to the people I love most dearly in the world.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Writing this novel has forced me to wrestle with the question of morality in fiction.  The first time I read Tolstoy’s essay on Shakespeare, which accuses Shakespeare of being (among other forms of literary criminality) immoral, I found the accusation stodgy and easy to dismiss.  In the same way, the first time I read Dante I convinced myself that the persistent focus on judgment and moral classification was beside the point, more of an organizational scheme than an important dimension of the poetry.  On both counts, I now realize I was in error.  I’m not a practicing Christian, but the more time I spend studying literature, the more I realize that our modern secular viewpoint doesn’t have much explanatory power to reveal what some of the towering writers of the past were trying to accomplish.  So I most admire those authors whose work forces me to do better, to know more, to step beyond my modern prejudices, in order to understand them

Give me some advice about writing…

​Write about something you love, and do it in the best way you know how, so that when the hard times come and the reasonable doubts set in, the work itself is your shelter against the storm.

What’s next for you?

​I have a vast stockpile of fascinating Vatican material that didn’t make it into this novel, so I’m certainly not done with this place.  And my Rule of Four co-author and I have been hatching plans to find time for a reunion, so I wouldn’t rule out another novel from us on a non-Vatican subject!

The Fifth Gospel – Ian Caldwell

The Fifth GospelA number of years ago Ian Caldwell co-authored a book that became a runaway bestseller. It was called The Rule Of Four and it kind of knocked everbody’s cassocks off right at the time when it was all Da Vinci this, the Name Of The Rose that. Since then Caldwell’s spent years working working on another book. It’s called The Fifth Gospel.

Here’s the blurb:

A lost gospel, a relic, and a dying pope’s final wish send two brothers – both Vatican priests – on a quest to untangle Christianity’s biggest mystery.

2004. As Pope John Paul II’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered. The same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation.

To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels – and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron – reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death, and its consequences for the future of the world’s two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds himself hunted down …

There’s a lot to admire in The Fifth Gospel. It’s a book about faith and religious history wrapped up in a slippery murder mystery and a twisty-turny courtroom drama, and has a kind of highbrow gravitas to it. It’s the Da Vinci Code for people with A-levels. It’s also a primer in the history of the Catholic Church for those of us who daydreamed about the tuck shop during RE.

I found the central conspiracy –- very much based around the interpretation of the gospels and the discovery of, yes, a fifth gospel –- a bit dry for my tastes. Theology is deffo not my thing, although my interest briefly flared with the introduction of our old friend The Shroud Of Turin. But the central mystery unfolds nicely as Father Alex’s investigation takes him further up the Vatican pole and the courtroom scenes, set in the Vatican’s own arcane legal system, give a maddening sense of shifting sands.

But it’s the location — The Fifth Gospel rarely steps outside of Vatican City — that’s worth the price of admission here. The city state is an absolutely fascinating place — secretive and surreal. Barely 100 acres big, it’s an amalgam of Number Six’s Village, Gormenghast, Westeros and Craggy Island.

It’s an enclosed place — like nowhere else on earth — with its own arcane laws and surreal lifestyle, its own army — the Swiss Guard — and police force and car service and shops and schools and palaces and businesses and archives. Many of its priests and its workforce — it has a population of 700,00 or so — have grown up there and will never leave.

Like the rest of the world, modern life is slowly encroaching on the Vatican’s cramped heritage. Old buildings and beautiful courtyards are paved over to provide car parking for millions of visitors, and yet it’s still a mysterious and oddly-Kafkaesque place where bureaucrats pore over the meaning of the gospels to doggedly pursue ancient internal conflicts.

Caldwell’s writing is sturdy and measured, if a little stiff sometimes — there’s one breathtaking scene in an underground boxing match that makes you think Caldwell would be rather a writer of action if he lets himself go a bit — but it’s the research that takes your breath away, the whole scope of the thing.

You get a real sense of the Vatican, and the seemingly never-ending hierarchy of clerics swishing about in big cars and the ruthlessness and the corruption and the godliness, and the lost corridors and tombs containing extraordinary treasures and the big, big resentments — never forgotten, never forgiven — which have lasted for a thousand years in this closed-off, almost dystopian society. It’s the perfect location for a conspiracy thriller and Caldwell wrings snakes-and-ladders tension out of every inch of the place.

God bless Simon And Schuster for the review copy.

We’re delighted to say that Ian gives us the intel on The Fifth Gospel later in the week. We’ve discussed this — me and the other Fellas on the Board — and have come to the conclusion that it’s probably one of the best ones we’ve ever done. Rather aptly, it you can check that out on Good Friday.

Crime Thriller Book Log: Billingham, Deaver, Harper and Ryan

Last week publishers cleared the decks for fear of getting lost in the wake of the marketing juggernaut that was Dan Brown‘s Inferno, but there are some new titles out there this week, and they ain’t bad, either.

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Following the stand-alone sweetness of Rush Of Blood, Mark Billingham has returned to the detective who made his name. His instincts are still there — as his cameo in Rush Of Blood suggests — but poor old Tom Thorne returns in reduced circumstances — busted back down to uniform.

Let the blurb take the strain:

A cluster of suicides among the elderly. Such things are not unknown to the police and the deaths are quickly dismissed by the police as routine. Only one man is convinced that something more sinister is taking place.

However, no one listens to Tom Thorne anymore. Having stepped out of line once too often, he’s back in uniform and he hates it. Patronised and abused by his new colleagues, Thorne’s suspicions about the suicides are dismissed by the Murder Squad he was once part of and he is forced to investigate alone.

Unable to trust anyone, Thorne must risk losing those closest to him.He must gamble with the lives of those targeted by a killer unlike any he has hunted before. A man with nothing to lose and a growing list of victims. A man with the power to make people take their own lives.

The Dying Hours is available in hardback and on Kindle from Thursday.

Unknown-2Another character who makes a cameo in someone else’s tale is Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, who pops up in the Kathryn Dance novel XO, which comes out in paperback from Thursday.

Behold the blurb:

Kayleigh Towne is a beautiful and successful singer-songwriter, and Edwin Sharp is her biggest fan. When she replies to one of his fan letters with ‘XO’, Edwin is convinced she loves him, and that her latest hit song ‘Your Shadow’ was written for him. Nothing Kayleigh or her lawyers can say persuades him otherwise.

Then the singer gets an anonymous phone call; it’s the first verse of ‘Your Shadow’ playing. Soon after, one of the crew is horribly murdered. Kayleigh’s friend Kathryn Dance, a special agent with the California Bureau of Investigation, knows that stalking crimes are not one-off occurrences, and, sure enough, more verses of the song are played as warnings of death to follow. With a little help from forensic criminalist Lincolyn Rhyme, Dance must use her kinesic and investigative skills in an attempt to find the killer before more people die.

What’s particularly interesting about XO is that Deaver has actually written the lyrics to actual songs featured in the book, formed a band, released an album and performed the songs. Dan Brown was a singer-songwriter, right? Maybe his people should call Deaver’s people, and they could write a musical together. Just a thought.

Unknown-1William Ryan’s the Twelfth Department is the third in his series about Captain Korolev, a police investigator in Stalinist Russia. Say all you like about Totalitarian states, but they’re a fertile stomping-ground for terrifc crime novels.

Let the blurb transport you:

Moscow, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer. It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power. When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD.

And then his son Yuri goes missing . . . A desperate race against time, set against a city gripped by Stalin’s Great Terror and teeming with spies, street children and Thieves, The Twelfth Department confirms William Ryan as one of the most compelling historical crime novelists at work today.

The Twelfth Department is out on Thursday, in hardback and on kindle.

Unknown-3The Orpheus Descent, by Tom Harper, is an adventure in the Dan Brown vein, in which musician Jonah Barnes searches for his missing archeologist wife, Lily. However, there’s a dual timeline, so  Jonah has to share the narrative with none other than Plato – yes, that Plato – who leaves ancient Greece to search for his friend Agathon in Italy.

Don’t take my word for it. Trust in the blurb:

I have never written down the answers to the deepest mysteries, nor will I ever… The philosopher Plato wrote these words more than two thousand years ago, following a perilous voyage to Italy — an experience about which he never spoke again, but from which he emerged the greatest thinker in all of human history.

Today, twelve golden tablets sit in museums around the world, each created by unknown hands and buried in ancient times, and each providing the dead with the route to the afterlife. Archaeologist Lily Barnes, working on a dig in southern Italy, has just found another. But this tablet names the location to the mouth of hell itself.

And then Lily vanishes. Has she walked out on her job, her marriage, and her life — or has something more sinister happened? Her husband, Jonah, is desperate to find her. But no one can help him: not the police and not the secretive foundation that sponsored her dig. All Jonah has is belief, and a determination to do whatever it takes to get Lily back.

But like Plato before him, Jonah will discover the journey ahead is mysterious and dark and fraught with danger. And not everyone who travels to the hidden place where Lily has gone can return.

I’m not sure about much in this life, but I’m almost certain that at some point, these two narratives, spaced approximately 2,500 years apart, will converge. It’s a intoxicating brew and a far cry, I’d imagine, from Mr. Harper’s former work in pension services.

What about you guys – what are you reading this week?

Crime Thriller Book Update: Inferno

My goodness, it was difficult to find any book releases this week. Maybe because there’s only one new Crime Thriller that anybody’s going to be buying.

It’s this:

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Here’s the blurb:

‘Seek and ye shall find.’

With these words echoing in his head, eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no recollection of where he is or how he got there. Nor can he explain the origin of the macabre object that is found hidden in his belongings.

A threat to his life will propel him and a young doctor, Sienna Brooks, into a breakneck chase across the city of Florence. Only Langdon’s knowledge of hidden passageways and ancient secrets that lie behind its historic facade can save them from the clutches of their unknown pursuers.

With only a few lines from Dante’s dark and epic masterpiece, The Inferno, to guide them, they must decipher a sequence of codes buried deep within some of the most celebrated artefacts of the Renaissance – sculptures, paintings, buildings – to find the answers to a puzzle which may, or may not, help them save the world from a terrifying threat.

Set against an extraordinary landscape inspired by one of history’s most ominous literary classics, Inferno is Dan Brown‘s most compelling and thought-provoking novel yet, a breathless race-against-time thriller that will grab you from page one and not let you go until you close the book.

You don’t need to be a noted symbologist – in your turtleneck, Harris Tweed jacket and collegiate cordovan loafers — to decipher the writing on the wall: Inferno will sell shitloads. And it’ll also get slated by the critics — I’ve read some right stinkers already. One chap in the Telegraph wrote yesterday: ‘As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor.’

Me, I like it when authors are successful. Brown has tapped into a fundamental belief in people, that unshakeable suspicion that more is happening on the other side of the curtain than we are privy to, and that the answers, if we care to look, are hidden in plain sight, and run with it.

His books aren’t my cup of tea, I confess — I’m more Disco Inferno than Dante’s Inferno — but that’s a matter of taste. However, for some people Brown’s combination of high-falutin’ cultural and religious imagery and low culture is just too toxic a mix. But you only have to look at the millions of similar quasi-religious conspiracy titles out there to see how influential his work has been on the international thriller genre.

Brown famously described Robert Langdon as Harrison Ford in a Tweed jacket, but the character has been played twice by Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code and Angels And Demons movies. Preproduction on the movie of The Lost Symbol started this year, apparently.

If you’re a writer struggling to get your work out there, Brown’s is a salutary story. A former singer-songwriter, his first three novels all sold under 10,000 copies, but he stuck with it – and his fourth, a little book called The Da Vinci Code, hit the jackpot, and how. It’s sold over 80 million copies. The critics ain’t gonna like it, but Brown says he’s got ideas for another dozen Langdon adventures.

So keep writing. Believe in yourself. Keep your bum plastered to the seat and keep tapping away. Because it can happen.

There’s a special talk with Dan Brown being held at the Freemasons’ Hall (you see what they’ve done there?) in London next Tuesday evening. If you’re around, you can book tickets here.

And by the way, there’s a terrific little article here about how Brown and other writers defeat the dreaded writer’s block. He does it by practicing something called ‘inversion therapy’  — that’s hanging upside down to you and me.

What about you, have you got your copy yet? Share your thoughts on the phenomenon that is Dan Brown.