Some more Dan Brown…the last time…I promise

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.

7 thoughts on “Some more Dan Brown…the last time…I promise

  1. Not a huge fan of the book but the plot hole suggested above is actually dealt with head on and isn’t an oversight.

    The provost states that Zobrist intended Sinskey to locate the device he had hidden in his safety deposit box AFTER the day he wanted the video released. She would then use it to track down the location of the origin of the virus and learn what it was really about. Global panic would ensue because people would take it seriously.

    This actually makes a lot of sense if you think it through. Had everything gone according to Zobrist’s plan then the video would have been released but (as no one actually gets sick) the majority would assume it was a hoax. Sinskey would then have had the map delivered to her by the Consortium and tracked down the alleged location where the disease originated, had the lagoon tested after discovering the remnants of the bag and then ‘voila!’, she would discover that the pathogen was a sterility virus.

    If nothing is ever delivered to Sinskey to find location zero and all the world is exposed to is some video from a mad scientist, no one would take it seriously.

    Zobrist needed the WHO to locate the source of the virus, but only after his video had gone viral.

    The plot in the novel all occurs because Sinskey raids the safe deposit box several days BEFORE it’s due to be delivered to her. The Consortium panic, as they were obliged to deliver it to her several days later and they think they’re putting Zobrist’s plan in danger. So in a way, the treasure hunt happens several days earlier than what Zobrist intended.

    There are some far more glaring plot holes re The Consortium and the whole ruse that they put together to get Langdon on side. If no one was actually trying to kill him then how/why on earth did Ignazio die? Langdon’s injuries were made up, there was no crazy fight outside the museum, so why was Il Duomino on the brink of death?

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think by the point in the novel all these explanations took place I was just wishing for it to be over, to tell the truth 😉

      My main issue remains the deliberately misleading points of view. I think if he stuck with Langdon as the primary POV character as with the previous novels, and just switch to the main antagonist (or in this case the perceived antagonist, i.e. the provost) from time to time for variety it might have been better. But I don’t think Sinskey or Sienna Brooks should have been used for POV.

      Also, the strength of A&D and DVC was that we never knew who the true enemy was until the very end, but at the same time there was an obvious scapegoat who was menacing enough in his own right to lead us along. Neither Lost Symbol nor Inferno had that and for me that took away a lot of the suspense.

  2. One of these days I need to write about a mad scientist who leaves a trail of mysterious clues that have nothing at all to do with the location of his doomsday device. That would be the way to ensure that the authorities don’t foil his evil plot–set up an enigmatic cipher that leads them to scour the sewers of Istanbul while the actual threat is in a nice anonymous safe deposit box in Omaha.

    1. And the readers should know from the very start the true location of the plague, so they can sit in terror and frustration as they see the hero moving further and further away from victory. Dramatic irony that would make ol’ Bill himself proud 😉

  3. Perhaps just narcissism on the part of the villain? Oh wait, this is a Brown story…:-)

    I think you’re right about the taunting – it runs to the heart of conspiracy thinking – the notion that the holders of secrets just HAVE to show their superiority, that they know something you don’t, by creating elaborate and complex puzzles that reveal it. A very medieval form of thinking which I have never understood. The best way to keep a secret is to not even reveal that a secret exists, something well known in centuries of warfare – look at the care the British took to obfuscate ULTRA. And yet conspiracy theorists today pivot their whole logic on the supposition that we are being taunted by the possessors of them. Brown keys into it in so many ways.

    1. The problem is, the antagonist dies before the novel starts, so we never really get insight into his personality and get to know his motivations only in a very limited sense. My musings here are pure speculation, as the novel does nothing to explore this particular issue.

      On a different note, do you think Mr Brown has people scouring the net for people writing negative stuff about his books? He did say on the first page (as he always does) that The Consortium really exists – he just changed their name for security’s sake. What if he’s a client? I’m just wondering, seeing how we have been ridiculing him in recent weeks, and I did notice someone following me around in the supermarket the other day. His badge said “Security”, but that could just be a cover…

      1. LOL! Actually…I am gobsmacked. The antagonist dies before the novel begins? That’s – uh – Novel Structure 101 Epic Fail territory…Sigh. On the other hand, I have to admit, it is very difficult to argue with more than 100,000,000 unit sales of Brown’s books, and boy do I wish mine had hit that sort of figure 🙂

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