Angels & Demons
Reviewed: July 30, 2004
By: Dan Brown
Publisher: Pocket Books
569 pages, $10.99
Angels and Demons is the first of Dan Brown's
books to use symbologist Robert Langdon as its central
character. It was followed by the immensely popular thriller,
The DaVinci Code.
This sequel has ridden the bestseller lists for about a year
now, has inspired the mass market reissue of Brown's previous
three novels and, because of the nature of its religious
content, triggered a flood of study guides, keys, and other
books both extolling and debunking its central idea.
Brown has thus become an instant celebrity and the source of
some contention in both religious and non-religious circles. I
haven't read The DaVinci Code yet. On the
recommendation of a friend I've been working my way through
Brown's earlier books, and have found them good light reading.
I don't know if he deliberately works in pairs or not, but the
first two novels both involved shady doings within the US
intelligence community, scams that drew in large numbers of
people, backfired, and resulted in more than a few deaths.
They were a mating of "primitive cunning and high tech means,"
to borrow a phrase from Bruce Cockburn.
Angels and Demons and its sequel both deal with
religion. Angels and Demons begins, however, with
science as Langford is spirited off to a high level
Swiss-based international research facility to help them solve
a murder. Langdon is not a detective, except in a very
literary sense, but the strange symbols found on the corpse
caused the head of CERN to send for a specialist in this
This is actually where this book began to fall down for me.
I'm guessing that Brown picked the Illuminati as a villainous
organization because they are not that well known as secret
societies go, unless, that is, you read a lot of science
fiction and fantasy. I have, so my attention began to waver as
Langdon dropped into didactic lecture mode and explained who
they were to everyone else that he met in the book.
More exciting was the fact that they had stolen a quantity of
anti-matter and were proposing to use it to decimate Vatican
City during the conclave being held to choose the new Pope.
As part of the game the four top candidates for the Papal
throne have been kidnapped and were to be killed ritually in
the hours before the final explosion. Langdon and the adopted
daughter (also a top scientist) of the murdered man are rushed
to Rome, where they must try to solve a centuries old mystery,
stop four murders, and locate the bomb before the magnetic
casing around it decays and allows the anti-matter within to
make cataclysmic contact with the rest of the world.
A major portion of the story is now taken up by a cat and
mouse game all over Vatican City, during which I think I
learned more about this place and the work of the artist
Bernini than I really wanted to know. Brown's plotting here
got swamped in the detail, and what is memorable is that this
section of the book partakes of a typical pulp magazine
hunt-confront-fail-escape-repeat cycle that would be familiar
to readers of magazines with names like Unknown
I'm not saying that this can't be used successfully in a
thriller, I just feel that it wasn't here.
For me the book was redeemed by the final section. I had been
anticipating an anticlimax after the events on page 445, but
Brown tricked me and did manage to notch the pace up as well
as advance the mystery during the remaining 120 or so pages.
In the end it was worth the journey, but he did have me
worried for a bit.
I'm not sure if I'll pick up the next one though. It's based
on a central idea you can read all about in a 30 year old work
of speculative history called Holy Cross, Holy
Grail (along with several sequels). I fear the story is
going to be completely lost in the explanations.