I just finished Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol. Three nights of terrific reading, and reviving old memories of the 1960s and 70s 'taser' novels by Colin Wilson, like The Mind Parasites and The Space Vampires.
It's all there, Masons, underground passageways, demons and darkness, as well as the idea of putting at work the powers of the mind in lock-step with others to move mountains or, in the case of Wilson, no less than the moon itself!
I liked all of Dan Brown's cliff-hangers, but at their austere and breath-taking level of suspense, the particular qualities of the bogey is what's making the difference for me.
In his first novel, Digital Fortress, the bad guy is still a scientist, rather a stereotype of the over-ambitious, whereas Deception Point featured the blood-hounding Mute, Angels and Demons had its sadist Arab and The Da Vinci Code the hampered Monk.
Though the three of them are mere vehicles of violence, answering to a secret Master, the Mute is just a hired killer and the Monk a pathetic freak, wheras the Arab, indeed, is an embodiment of Evil, doing the job to satisfy his own pathological cravings and thus, a genuine creep. Therefore, I preferred Angels and Demons beyond the other novels on behalf of this convincingly spine-chilling character.
The demon of The Lost Symbol, though a freak of his own merit and a ruthless killer to that, equals the Arab in occult knowledge and malice, but beats him by far on the application of modern gadgetry and psychological trickery. Besides, he's self-employed. The disclosure of his true identity is a moment of shocking revelation.
The narrative starts with the familiar pattern of the telephone call at an ungodly hour, the rush by plane to a place of renown and the confrontation with a ghastly crime, shrouded in mystery. What is of note, however, the meeting of the hero and the local heroine-to-be remains long overdue. Whereas in the earlier thrillers, they're growing more and more close, so that at the last page they can't wait to spend the night as close as can be, in The Lost Symbol they happen to be old friends, who do embrace, incidentally, under emotional duress for support and consolation, but never in a way as to kindle the flame of passion. It may be their age.
Even the demon has taken precautions to avoid temptations of the flesh, a fact that doesn't harm his menacing powers, but puts him at a disadvantage with his Arab counter-part in Angels and Demons, whose sexual prowess, indeed, proved a convincing tool for rousing utter dread and desperation.
So, in the end, the only thing stirring is not the magic stick, but solely the spirit.