I don’t hate Dan Brown. I honestly don’t. I own four of his books, after all (okay, five, but I got the last one for free, so it doesn’t count). I have contributed, at least in part, to his current wealth. I didn’t like Inferno, I’ve said so, and I was happy to let the matter lie, even after I coincidentally discovered a factual error.
But yesterday I typed “Dan Brown Inferno” into Quora.com, to see if people were discussing the novel, just out of curiosity, you know? There I came across one question which exposed a plot hole…make that the plot hole, a plot hole so big that I didn’t even spot it because the entire novel was inside it.
(At this point it would again be pertinent to issue a spoiler alert, but does it make any difference?)
You remember I told you about that mad scientist who was planning to unleash a plague on the world? Well, he had hidden the plague somewhere where it would affect largest possible number of people in what we’ll call a time-release capsule. No problem there. The problem is, he left clues to the location in the form of an altered painting viewable through a laser-projector and an elaborate riddle concealed on the back of Dante’s death mask. Why? Was he afraid that he’d forget where he left the plague and had the foresight to leave himself a trail of breadcrumbs in case he had to find it again? Was it his way of taunting his enemies, giving them the knowledge that there is a way to find and stop the plague, but making it impossible for them to do that? Was he just that egotistical?
Whatever the reason, once you ask this question the novel ceases to make sense in its entirety. The central driving force behind the plot – the need for Langdon to solve the riddle – becomes nonsensical. I’m just mad at myself for not spotting it. And here I thought I was smart.
As I’m on a roll, I might as well tell you about the other little mistake I discovered. First I should tell you that I’m a tough reader to please once I move out of my favourite genres of epic fantasy and SF. If you mention a place in your novel, I stop reading to pull closer the atlas so I can know where the action is taking place. I google medical and technical terms if I don’t know what they are. My dictionary (even if only the cell phone app) is always within arm’s reach. I do it with tv shows as well. It’s weird, I know. I’m not going to stop it, though.
In Inferno part of the story takes place at the ancient cistern in Istanbul. Brown gives the name of the location as Yerebatan Sarayi which, according to Langdon in the novel, translates as “the sunken palace”. I’ll quote the sentence: “And in Turkish, ‘sunken palace’ literally points…” He motioned to the “Yerebatan Sarayi” sign over the doorway. “…here.” On second thought, Mr Brown used the word, “literally”. He deserves what’s coming.
Google Maps gives the place name as Yerebatan Sarnici, and the official website confirms it. So, to start with Mr Brown got the name wrong. Yerebatan Sarnici, the correct name, translates as Basilica Cistern according to Google Translate, by the way. Yerebatan Sarayi, that is used here, translates as Basilica Palace, not Sunken Palace (which is, in fact, batιk sarayi in Turkish).
I did find that the Wikipedia article on the cistern says the place is called Yerebatan Sarayi and that it means Sunken Palace. That simply tells me that Mr Brown either got his info via Wikipedia, or the Wikipedia editors used Inferno as a source to write the article. (I started a discussion on this topic on the talk page of the article, so hopefully it will be resolved soon. I don’t yet trust myself to edit articles on Wikipedia, but if no one else does it, this might just be my first.)
That OCD part of my brain wants me to go double-check all the Italian phrases for mistakes in translation, but I think I’ll give that a pass. The next review will be about a book I actually enjoyed.