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Dan Brown's Inferno

(A Digested Read)

(John Crace)

(The Guardian)

Robert Langdon's mind was a vale of darkness. His eidetic memory had failed him. 'You've been shot,' a woman said. He looked up to see a lissome figure with gentle brown eyes that held a profundity of experience rarely encountered in someone of her age. "I'm Sienna Brooks. A doctor. We have to get you out of here. Someone is trying to kill you."

"Why would anyone want to do that?" he asked.

"Because they read The Da Vinci Code."

Just then, a masked woman with spiky hair burst through the doors, firing a metallic gun. Sienna opened a hidden trap door that no one had guessed might be there and she and Langdon slid down a curved tunnel that took them to a secret hideout.

Langdon looked out the window. "From my observations, I deduce we must be in Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany with 370,000 residents," he said. "There's no time for you to quote Wikipedia," Sienna reprimanded him scoldingly. "The world is under threat."

"If only I could remember why," Langdon said, rifling his fingers through his fawny-brown hair. Sienna looked on with a sad tristesse. If only he knew I was really bald, she thought, having lost my hair as a child due to a disease brought on by my intelligence.

Seven kilometres out into the azure waters of the Adriatic, the Provost - the head of a top-secret organisation called the Cornsortium, which specialised in contriving idiotic plotlines - stood at the prow of his 237m yacht, the Mendacium. I may have finally taken on a plotline too stupid even for me, he thought.

"I keep seeing visions of a woman with Medusa-like grey hair," Langdon murmured. "Perhaps that means the key to unlocking this mystery is to be found in Botticelli's map of the world and in the works of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the major Italian poet of the Middle Ages."

Dr Elizabeth Sinskey, CEO of the World Health Organisation, combed her Medusa-like grey hair and thought unnecessarily of the glucocorticoid treatment that had destroyed her reproductive system. Her mind then switched to that fateful meeting she had had with Bertand Zobrist. "The population of the world is growing too fast," the billionaire geneticist had said urgently. "If we are not careful, there will soon be eight billion Dan Brown readers. We must have a cull."

As the helicopter drones droned above them, Langdon and Sienna cowered in the secret alcove of the Pitti Palace. "Canto 25 specifically points us to this spot," Langton insisted. "But there is no way through this locked door."

"Perhaps I could try knocking," said Sienna. The door creaked silently open. "Mille grazie. A thousand thank yous," she added, helpfully translating herself. As they looked down at a dead spiky-haired woman lying next to a Damien Hirst skull, Langton suddenly realised he was in the wrong city.

A sudden and unexpected memory flooded Langton's synapses as he observed the equine, horse-like structures in Venice. "Fiesland is a Dutch province that was the birthplace of the brilliant artist MC Escher," he said. "We are in the wrong city again."

Deep in the heart of Istanbul, a city that nestles on the Bosphorus, Langdon, Sienna, Dr Sinskey and the Provost all gathered by the chthonic - the ch is silent, Langdon reminded them - monsters of the cistern. "I'm afraid we had to use you," said Sinskey. "Everything has been a setup. But it's too late anyway, as Zobrist's airborne virus that makes half the world infertile has already infected the whole earthly planet."

Langdon paused. "So let's get this straight. Zobrist left a trail of pointless clues to where the virus wasn't, so the whole book has been a total waste of time?"

Sinskey's mouth stretched into a knowing but sad smile. "That's about it. But at the end of the day, you will still have four billion readers, so you can't complain."

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