Dan Brown's works present a paradox, and not because they are jammed full of codes and puzzles to break. They are the type of fiction ideally suited to consumption by sleepy readers incapable of following along with denser, more literary works. But they are also dangerously captivating, proving difficult to put down for proper sleep. Sleep deprivation from reading his books long into the night prevents the reader from attempting any other literary quests, creating a cycle of Dan Brown dependency that can only end with the conclusion of the book.
The lack of sleep and the consequent clouded memory unfortunately prevent the reader from retaining the more nuanced aspects of Brown's newest, The Lost Symbol. These are found in the details, as the book follows largely the same trajectory as the two earlier in the Robert Langdon series, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.
Symbol familiarly pitches Langdon into a bizarre opening scene that quickly comes to involve an insidious villain and untrustworthy authorities. The story is told in small chapters, cutting back and forth between different characters to keep things fresh as Langdon and his new female counterpart struggle to solve a mystery before all hell breaks loose.
As with Brown's previous massive best sellers, The Lost Symbol is a strange, three-way hybrid between an exhilarating detective novel, a trivia book and a travel guide. It is interesting that Brown's books have caused the controversy they have. They don't delve deeply into any contentious issues, but merely present an excess of information that may or may not be offensive to some, if taken too seriously, which the novels certainly don't warrant. There are some points in Symbol where Brown attempts limited political commentary, but caught up in the larger narrative and drowned out by the cascade of historical and mythological minutiae as they are, they come across as flippant. There is no profound insight to be gained, though the research that obviously went into the book is impressive. It is simply a very good thriller.
Brown has undoubtedly written a solid thrill-ride. Just don't read it when there's studying to be done-- it won't help.