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Trash Fiction Corner: Dan Brown’s ‘The Inferno’

THE BOOK: Inferno, by Dan Brown, Doubleday, 480 pages

BEST-SELLER STATUS: Since it was released just last week, it wasn’t reflected in the New York Times best-seller list as of press time. But come on.

DOES THIS ONE STAR TOM HANKS, TOO? If you’re asking whether the protagonist is Harvard art nerd Robert Langdon — played by Hanks in the film adaptations of previous books The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons — yes.

DO YOU PICTURE HANKS AS READ? Yes, yes. You simply can’t help it. You hear the dialogue in his voice, too. Damn it. At least his hair gets messed up. There’s head trauma.

SO GIST ME: Like all Langdon books, this one involves ancient clues to a modern mystery. This time, it’s Dante, medival Florentine author of The Divine Comedy. A crazy-brilliant bio-geneticist who’s obsessed with Dante leaves Dante-inspired clues to the location of his genetically engineered, quite possibly world-ending biological whatsis. This book’s underlying mega-theme: the coming crisis of overpopulation. In the course of a very looong day, Hanks — er, Langdon must decode the clues, flee the assassins, circle the globe, pontificate on art and endure bales of clunky prose in order to save the world as only a Harvard symbologist can. There’s also a bout of amnesia, a shadowy fixer and a cistern in Istanbul.

CRITICS WILL HATE IT? Oh, absolutely! They’re not the only ones, either; fan reviews on Amazon have been harsh.

IT’S GOTTA HAVE SOME GOOD QUALITIES, RIGHT? One thing critics will hate is that Brown doesn’t hide his research very well. (Again.) You’ll be equipped to write a term paper on Dante by the time you close the book — and maybe on Venetian art and the architecture of Florence. But I actually liked some of that; hey, learning can be fun! Also, the narrative, unburdened by the weight of fully realized characters, moves at typical Dan Brown breakneck speed, and there are one or two plot twists you don’t see coming. And, frankly, any book that celebrates brain power by fronting an art-history prof as its protagonist kinda has me on its side from the get-go. It’s not a literary read, not by any means, but it has its entertaining moments.

WHERE DOES IT FIT WITH HIS OTHER BOOKS? It doesn’t match the narrative largeness of DaVinci Code or Angels & Demons, but it’s more, um, convincing (weird word to apply to a Dan Brown novel) than The Lost Symbol.

BUY IT OR SKIP IT? If you’ve read this far, you know you’re gonna get it.