Before Dan Brown became an international sensation with The Davinci Code, the best-selling author wrote his first adventure with symbologist Robert Langdon that also tackled religion, mystery, and historical symbols. The novel follows the Harvard professor from the CERN laboratories in Switzerland to Vatican City and the surrounding churches in Rome, Italy. A dark conspiracy unfolds with a murder and clues that lead to a greater conspiracy involving the Christian church's oldest enemy, the Illuminati.
The mystery kicks off with a murder and a horrific image seared onto the body of a scientist at the CERN research facility where they smash atoms together to see what is inside. Brown is an expert at moving the pacing along while depositing useful information into the reader's mind that not only helps inform the plot but educates us on real life scenarios and institutions. Langdon receives images in his Harvard homes and is whisked out on a high-powered jet by the Director of CERN, Maximillian Kohler. The symbologist sees the branded mark of an ambigram that spells out "Illuminati" on the scientist Leonardo Vetra.
Vittoria Vetra, the murdered scientist's daughter, returns to the laboratory to inform the men of the dangerous dark matter research that she and her father had been working on. Brown is probably at his worst when he describes Vetra and uses her more as a physical prop than taking advantage of her intelligence and strengths. They soon discover that the anti-matter is being stored somewhere beneath the Vatican and scheduled to go off in twelve hours. Brown jumps between character points-of-view to inform the reader as much as possible while still keeping the mystery intact.
With the sense of urgency created, Brown raises the stakes as the death of the pope has caused the start of conclave and the Vatican is in lockdown. I enjoyed learning about the history of the artists and the geography of Rome though I have to keep a skeptic's mind and do my own research though the topic is not one that I am especially interested in. I found the pacing nice though at certain points it slows down. The mystery unfold with quite a nice amount of twists if the resolution felt a bit stilted.
I picked up this book and the rest of the series in preparation for the new released of Inferno this month, but I doubt I'll get a chance to read all of the books before the movie comes out. I have read three of the series only not catching the most recent but it will be nice to revisit them on last time, most likely my last, and try to glean what succeeded for Brown and understand the critiques of his detractors. I was much young when I first read this book and this second time around I'm not quite impressed though that may stem strongly from already knowing the answer to many of the mysteries.