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Don Draper isn’t the only one who’s been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy lately. Dan Brown has also been thumbing through the 14th-century classic, which inspires the cryptic clues in his new globe-trotting scavenger hunt, Inferno. Symbology prof Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Dante’s hometown of Florence with a gunshot wound to the head and a case of amnesia. But fans of Langdon’s previous riddle-riddled adventures will suffer no such memory lapse. Brown stocks his latest book with all the familiar elements, including puzzles that only Langdon can be expected to solve, a beautiful female companion (this time a doctor with a blond ponytail and an IQ of 208), allies who are not what they seem, casual gibes at the Catholic Church, and hints of other international groups with secret conspiratorial agendas.
There’s also a bad guy straight out of one of the cheesier James Bond movies: a Dante-loving geneticist bent on preventing world overpopulation by releasing a deadly biological pathogen. Because he is vain and a Dan Brown villain, he doesn’t merely set his overly elaborate plot in motion but sends Langdon on a complicated chase through tourist destinations in various European capitals. This lets Brown pause his well-paced narrative for some Fodor’s folderol on art or architectural history. Those smarty-pants tangents give this diverting thriller the welcome illusion of smarts, like a trompe l’oeil in prose form. B