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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also a film journalist/critic for Cocktails & Movies and CinemaBlend, as well as the author of several short stories such as "The Devil v. George W. Bush". Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: mikereyeswrites@gmail.com

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Friday, July 10, 2009

The Cannonball Read: Entry 14 - "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown

Much like a relative or a forgotten TV show about lifeguards, I’ve returned when you least expected. For various reasons, this book was a bit of a climb, but I managed to muddle through. Also, interesting bit of trivia: this is the first review I wasn't able to locate the cover art of the exact issue of the book I own/have read. I just went with the movie one because it looked nice. Just a little nitpick on my end.

As always, I would also like to thank Brian Prisco for not only being able to make sense of my writing but actually seeing them fit for mass consumption. Normally this is where I'd encourage you to familiarize yourself with the rules: http://www.pajiba.com/cannonball-read.htm; and here's where you go to sign up.: http://gospelaccordingtoprisco.wordpress.com/choose-your-weapon-the-combatants/ However, we already have a winner in the "first to 100" portion of the contest. Nevertheless, if you want to sign up and get ready for the next round, then giddy up! All reviews submitted have a shot of being published at Pajiba.com. (Which is as cool as it sounds, trust me. Four times I've had it happen, and it's just as cool as the first.)

Back when everyone was heralding it as the hot book of the summer, I picked up a copy of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code”. The story of the Holy Grail being the ultimate tell all dealing with the formation of modern religion, and the quest to keep it secret, were both tantalizing prospects for me. What made me even happier was the hero, Robert Langdon, was a professor. He wasn’t some the stereotypical action hero who shot and killed his way to the truth (which I’m fond of in some instances), he was an academic who solved puzzles & thought his way to the end of a crisis. If you really want to boil a Robert Langdon story down to its core essence, it’s a big treasure hunt that involves complicated clues, shadowy organizations, and high intellectual stakes. This is basically what Angels and Demons does, except it’s locked into one location and it’s over the course of a couple hours. While Angels was written before DaVinci, it was DaVinci that took off and was made into a movie first. Another classic case of “Oh, well he wrote this book too” lead Angels and Demons to become the movie sequel, while it was the literary prequel.

Either way you slice it, this book was pretty good. The thing readers have to remember about Dan Brown’s writing is that while it’s fun, it’s not winning any awards. I could totally see the villain coming from the trailers and his motivations weren’t that hard to decipher either. (That’s not a spoiler, there’s only two female characters prominently featured throughout the book. Brown tends to write himself into quite the sausage fest, and one would hope he rectifies this with The Lost Symbol.) The story is simple: Langdon is dragged into a race against time through Vatican City to save the four “preferiti” (the four front runners for becoming Pope) from being murdered by the Illuminati. This all happens after the Pope and a preeminent physicist/priest are murdered and some high grade explosive material is stolen from the CERN particle reactor. Antimatter, that is. Luminescent gold. Swiss tea. Along for the ride is beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra, daughter to the slain physicist/priest. Throw in an assassin, various members of the Vatican and the Swiss Guard, and you basically have a really good Scooby Doo mystery for adults. Literally, the last 40 pages or so are what I like to call the “I would have gotten away with it all if it weren’t for you meddling kids” section of the book.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. While Angels and Demons is the more action packed story, DaVinci had the better structure. Exposition was laced throughout and the villain’s motives were clearly developed so that way when the villain was revealed, it wasn’t a total info dump. Another thing I like about Brown’s writing is the fact that he uses “shadow organizations” that actually exist (such as the Illuminati or Opus Dei) and throws in some mythical back story that’s somewhat plausible. The Illuminati did hate the church, but would they really come back after all these years & wage war? Probably not, but it makes for exciting stuff. He mixes the history and the fiction well enough that you don’t see the seams when you zoom past them at breakneck speed. Just don’t slow down, otherwise you’ll find yourself picking it apart mercilessly. The fact is Brown isn’t an “award winning author”, he’s a “best selling author”. He’s able to spin a good yarn, pace his story at a fast enough clip, and get you to have fun while thinking just a little more about said shadow organization’s true history. Basically, he’s James Patterson with a treasure hunting fetish. Right down to the shorter chapter structure.

The highlight of the book, at least in my perspective, is a monologue given a good portion of the way into the book. In this speech is perhaps one of the best pro religion/anti science that I’ve ever read. Normally, I’m one to side with the eggheads who use test tubes and beakers to tell me how the world works; but the way this argument is worded and the points it makes are just so well thought out that I could actually see how the other side felt for once. And better more, I couldn’t just say, “Well, you’re wrong”, because it made so much sense. I highly recommend Angels and Demons if you like The DaVinci Code, or if you just like intellectual treasure hunting adventures in general. It’s both a beach read and a pop culture “must read”, much like its successor. Just don’t expect to think too deep on this one. The pool is shallower than you might expect, but it's still deep enough for a good swim.

Next Time: I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

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