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  New York Times Review

The new Dan Brown puzzler is the scariest one yet. It's not so much the barbarous machinations of the villain, another one-dimensional, self-mortifying hulk, that sends chills down your spine. Or the plot, which is an Oedipal MacGuffin. No, the terrifying thing about "The Lost Symbol" is that Brown - who did not flinch when the Vatican both condemned the "The Da Vinci Code" and curtailed the filming of "Angels & Demons" in Rome - clearly got spooked by that other powerful, secretive ancient sect, the Masons. His book is a desperate attempt to ingratiate himself with the Masons, rather than to interpret the bizarre Masonic rites and symbols that illuminate - as in Illuminati! - how the ultimate elite private boys' club has conspired to shape the nation's capital and Western civilization ever since George Washington laid the cornerstone for the Capitol building in a Masonic ritual wearing full Masonic regalia, including a darling little fringed satin apron. If the Masons are more intimidating than the Vatican, if Brown has now become part of their semiotic smoke screen, then all I can say is, God help us all. Or as Brown, who is more addicted to italics than that other breathless Brown, Cosmo Girl Helen Gurley, might put it: What the hell? Of course, who can blame him? How can you not be frightened by a brotherhood that includes Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny; Buzz Aldrin; and Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's? During the five years he researched this book, did Brown begin to believe those sensational stories about how, if you expose the secrets of the Masons, they will slit your throat? Did he discover that the Masons are not merely a bunch of old guys dressed up in funny costumes enjoying a harmless night away from the wives? Could they really be, as a recent Discovery Channel documentary on the ancient order wondered, "Godless conspirators bound to a death pledge who infiltrate institutions and run the world"? Did Brown decipher the cryptic documents locked in a safe at the C.I.A. - founded by another Mason, Harry Truman! - and figure out that some of those wild tales were true? That Jack the Ripper was a Mason whose identity was covered up by the Masonic police commissioner? That Salieri and others murdered Mozart after the young Masonic composer revealed some of the order's secret symbols in "The Magic Flute"? I was really looking forward to Brown's excavation of Washington's mystical power, ancient portals, secret passageways and shadow worlds. As a native, I've loved the monuments here since I was little. I've often driven past the Scottish Rite Masonic temple with its two sphinxes on 16th Street. And my first memory as a little girl was picking up my dad from work at night from the brightly lighted Capitol. I was eager to learn occult lore about our venerable marble temples and access the lost wisdom of the ages. So I happily curled up with Robert Langdon, the author's anodyne, tweedy doppelgänger, and suppressed my annoyance that the Harvard symbologist was still wearing his Mickey Mouse watch, hand-grinding his Sumatra coffee beans and refusing to entangle with the latest brainy babe who materializes to help untangle ancient secrets. This book's looker, Katherine Solomon, is a lithe, gray-eyed expert in Noetic science, the study of "the untapped potential of the human mind." Brown must also want to explore the untapped potential of the human body, since he has made his heroine 50 years old, something that no doubt caused the Hollywood studio suits to spritz their Zico coconut water. Katherine, a few years older than Langdon, may be a tribute to Brown's wife and amanuensis, Blythe, who is 12 years older and helped him write "187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman." Emotions are the one thing Dan Brown can't seem to decipher. His sex scenes are encrypted. Even though Katherine seems like Langdon's soul mate - she even knows how to weigh souls - their most torrid sex scenes consist of Robert winking at he or flashing her a lopsided grin. Brown's novels are obviously inspired by Indiana Jones and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." But he can only emulate the galloping narrative drive and the fascination with mythological archetypes, pyramids, Holy Grails, treasure maps and secret codes; he can't summon the sexy, playful side of the Spielberg-Lucas legacy. His metaphors thud onto the page. Inoue Sato, an intelligence official investigating a disembodied hand bearing a Masonic ring and iconic tattoos that shows up in the Capitol Rotunda, "cruised the deep waters of the C.I.A. like a leviathan who surfaced only to devour its prey." Insights don't simply come to characters: "Then, like an oncoming truck, it hit her," or "The revelation crashed over Langdon like a wave." And just when our hero thinks it's safe to go back in the water, another bad metaphor washes over him: "His head ached now, a roiling torrent of interconnected thoughts." You can practically hear the eerie organ music playing whenever Mal'akh, the clichéd villain whose eyes shine "with feral ferocity," appears. He goes from sounding like a parody of a Bond bad guy ("You are a very small cog in a vast machine," he tells Langdon) to a parody of Woody Allen ("The body craves what the body craves," he thinks). But Brown tops himself with these descriptions: "Wearing only a silken loincloth wrapped around his buttocks and neutered sex organ, Mal'akh began his preparations," and "Hanging beneath the archway, his massive sex organ bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny. In another life, this heavy shaft of flesh had been his source of carnal pleasure. But no longer." BROWN has always written screenplays masquerading as novels, but now he's also casting. Warren Bellamy, the Masonic architect of the Capitol is described as an elderly African-American man with close-cropped, graying hair who enunciates his words with crisp precision: "Bellamy was lithe and slender, with an erect posture and piercing gaze that exuded the confidence of a man in full control of his surroundings." Morgan Freeman, call Ron Howard. The Bellamy character provides another opportunity for Brown to burnish the Masons, as when the architect tells Langdon: "The craft of Freemasonry has given me a deep respect for that which transcends human understanding. I've learned never to close my mind to an idea simply because it seems miraculous." The author has gotten rich and famous without attaining a speck of subtlety. A character never just stumbles into blackness. It must be inky blackness. A character never just listens in shock. He listens in utter shock. And consider this fraught interior monologue by the head of the Capitol Police: "Chief Anderson wondered when this night would end. A severed hand in my Rotunda? A death shrine in my basement? Bizarre engravings on a stone pyramid? Somehow, the Redskins game no longer felt significant." My dad always said in his day that the Masons were not welcoming to Catholics. The Catholic Church once considered the Masons so anti-Catholic, Catholics who joined were threatened with excommunication. Now the church hierarchy merely disapproves. (They like secret rites, blood rituals and the exclusion of women only when they do it.) But Langdon suggests to his Harvard students that the Masons are "refreshingly open-minded" and do not "discriminate in any way." To a student protesting that Masonry sounds like a "freaky cult," Langdon counters that it's "a system of morality" He notes, "The Masons are not a secret society . . . they are a society with secrets." He debunks stories of the founding fathers' supposedly building a Satanic pentacle and the Masonic compass and square into the capital's street design, scoffing, "If you draw enough intersecting lines on a map, you're bound to find all kinds of shapes." The Masons are represented in the dazzling person of Peter Solomon, Katherine's older brother, a handsome, wealthy historian and philanthropist who runs the Smithsonian Institution and inspired the youg Langdon's interest in symbols. In interviews, Brown has said he was tempted to join the Masons, calling their philosophy a "beautiful blueprint for human spirituality." In the next opus, Langdon will probably be wearing a red Shriner's fez with his Burberry turtleneck and Harris tweed. In this book, Langdon helps stop the villain from releasing a video to YouTube that he has surreptitiously taped during his Masonic initiation rites. The blind-folded initiate drinks blood-red wine out of a human skull and has a dagger pressed to his bare chest; he has to take part in an enactment of his own brutal murder - "there were simulated blows to his head, including one with a Mason's stone maul" - and hear a biblical reference to human sacrifice, "the submission of Abraham to the Supreme Being by proffering Isaac, his firstborn son." These are meant partly as warnings about what can befall anyone who leaks the order's secrets - warnings Dan Brown clearly took to heart. "Langdon could already tell that the video was an unfair piece of propaganda," Brown writes, adding that the symbologist thought to himself, "the truth will be twisted . . . as it always is with the Masons." Brown skitters away from giving us the book we expected: one that might have clued us in on which present-day politicians are still Masons and what mumbo jumbo they're up to. That job was left to Eamon Javers of Politico, who uncovered a list of Freemasons in Congress that reads like a vast rightwing conspiracy. Joe "You lie!" Wilson is a member of the Sinclair Lodge of West Columbia, S.C. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House minority whip, who's trying to suffocate President Obama's health care plan, is a member of a Richmond lodge his dad and uncle belonged to. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who chimed in against "death panels," urged Javers: "Don't judge us by the funny hats we wear." Even more ominously, President Obama suddenly left the White House on a recent night and went to the Washington Monument, the obelisk that figures in Brown's climactic scene, and stayed inside for 20 minutes. If you add the 13 minutes it probably took to walk to the limo and drive back to the White House and return to his residence, you reach the magic Masonic number of 33! In the end, as with "The Da Vinci Code," there's no payoff. Brown should stop worrying about unfinished pyramids and worry about unfinished novels. At least Spielberg and Lucas gave us an Ark and swirling, dissolving humans. We don't get any ancient wisdom that "will profoundly change the world as you know it" - just a lot of New Agey piffle about how we are the gods we've been waiting for. (And a father-son struggle for global domination, as though we didn't get enough of that with the Bushes.) What the hell, Dan?! Maureen Dowd is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times.

  Library Journal Review

Brown's long-awaited blockbuster (after The Da Vinci Code) does not disappoint. Robert Langdon receives an invitation to give a lecture in Washington, DC, but discovers an empty chamber when he arrives at the venue. He quickly learns that he's been summoned for his knowledge rather than his oratory skills and that his friend Peter Solomon has been abducted. To save his life, Langdon must follow a set of clues and uncover a treasure hidden somewhere in the nation's capitol. Brown follows the template that worked in his earlier Langdon novels and proves he is the undisputable master of the genre. He even takes time to poke fun both at his popularity and the six-year gap between books. Verdict Not playing it safe, Brown crafts a compelling thriller with a rather odd yet intriguing nemesis; the final revelation is guaranteed to stir up more controversy and offshoots examining the themes explored. Buying this book is a no-brainer, but reading it will activate the brain cells in a way few suspense novels achieve. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]-Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

A mysterious clue leading to a series of puzzles; a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing; ancient secrets; mysterious organizations that link past to present Brown has taken the elements that made The Da Vinci Code a success and reworked them in this long-anticipated sequel. Robert Langdon, the symbologist hero of Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, is lured to Washington, D.C., where he believes he is to give a speech. Instead, he finds that an old friend has been abducted. Only Langdon can unlock the hidden mysteries that can save his friend's life. Brown combines Freemasons, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Albrecht Durer, and various other ingredients to create a story that could be a mishmash but never quite loses cohesiveness. Readers who found the previous Langdon novels to be excessively wordy and much too slowly paced will level the same criticisms here, and Brown really needs to cool it with the amateurish overuse of exclamation marks, italics, and sentence-ending punctuation like ?! On the other hand, you can't deny that he knows how to put together an intriguing, if emotionally uninvolving, story: he keeps us guessing with his riddles and puzzles, and we move through the story in a cantering, orderly fashion. Other writers could have taken this story and really run with it Matthew Reilly, say, or James Rollins but fans of the first two Langdon novels will flock to this one and they won't be disappointed. One final note: Brown may have done himself a slight disservice by setting the novel in Washington: he's inviting comparison to the lighter, and livelier, National Treasure movies.--Pitt, David Copyright 2009 Booklist
Summary
<p>In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code , Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling--a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths . . . all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.<br> <br> As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object --artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.<br> <br> When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist --is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.<br> <br> As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons , Dan Brown's novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown's fans have been waiting for . . . his most thrilling novel yet.</p>
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