After a canister of volatile antimatter is stolen from CERN, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon must race against time, and a mounting body count, to solve the puzzle of its theft to keep Vatican City from being vaporized in a sinister Illuminati plot. The novel opens with the murder of Leonardo Vetra, a physicist at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, by an unknown assailant. CERN, home to the world's most advanced particle accelerators, has been researching and accumulating potentially explosive antimatter. The CERN director, Kohler, discovers the body branded with a symbol of the Illuminati and something worse: a canister of antimatter has been stolen.
For help, Kohler calls in Robert Langdon, a professor of symbology at Harvard, to ascertain the veracity of the branding. Langdon arrives, identifies the branding, and meets Vetra's adopted daughter, Vittoria. Kohler reveals the theft and explains that that much antimatter could mimic the explosive capacity of a low-yield nuclear weapon. He also explains that the means of keeping the antimatter stable no longer apply now that the canister has been removed from its on-site power supply, and that the canister's battery pack will only work for another 24 hours. After that, all bets are off. All they can determine is that the canister is now somewhere in Vatican City.
With this literal ticking bomb hanging over their heads, Langdon and Vittoria head to the Vatican to try and stop the Illuminati from whatever they have planned. The pope has died and the enclave is preparing to select his replacement. Langdon discovers that the four Preferiti, a class of top Cardinals Dan Brown made up, are also missing. Sensing a connection, Langdon attempts to track them down. Helping him are Carlo Ventresca, the late pope's most trusted assistant, and the Swiss Guard, which Dan Brown seems to think are some kind of elite commando outfit.
Langdon's only real clue is the "Path of Illumination", a kind of scavenger hunt for wannabe Illuminati recruits, with clues scattered around Rome. Following these clues will allegedly lead to the Illuminati's secret chapter house. So on he goes. The clues lead him to four spots associated with the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.
At the first two spots, Earth and Air, Langdon finds the first two dead Cardinals. Each has been murdered according to the respective element -- one suffocated on dirt, the othe had his lungs ruptured -- and branded with the name of that element. At the third location, Langdon finally meets the assassin, but is unable to stop him from setting the third Cardinal on fire, killing the commander of the Swiss Guard accompanying Langdon, and kidnapping Vittoria. A Harvard professor, it seems, is not a great choice for hunting this madman down. His failure continues at the final location, where he is again unable to stop the assassin from killing the last Cardinal, this time by wrapping him in chains and drowning him in a fountain.
With time running out, Langdon has no choice but to continue on. The Path of Illumination at last leads him to Castel Sant'Angelo, a papal fortress turned museum in Rome. There he confronts the assassin and rescues Vittoria. Despite the assassin's clear prowess and ruthlessness, Langdon, our mild-mannered professor, solves his assassin problem by pushing him off a balcony.
Returning to the Vatican, Langdon and the Swiss Guard find CERN director Kohler confronting the pope's aide, Carlo Ventrasca. Thinking that Kohler is about to kill Ventrasca, the Swiss Guard shoot him. But just before Kohler dies, he gives Langdon a mysterious videotape.
There is now almost no time left. The antimatter bomb is expected to go off any minute. As the Swiss Guard begin evacuating St. Peter's Basilica, Ventrasca suddenly informs everyone that a vision from God has told him where the bomb is hidden. Lo and behold, Ventrasca finds the bomb exactly where he claims god told him to find it and disposes of it in a suitably absurd manner (put it in a helicopter, fly the helicopter away, and then parachute out of the helicopter as it explodes). Rather than question the obvious suspiciousness of this sudden vision, everyone hails Ventrasca as a hero and the enclave even prepares to vote him the next pope.
But not so fast. Resident super-genius Langdon watches the video and discovers that it implicates Ventrasca in the whole charade. It turns out Ventrasca, in some nonsense about the now-dead pope allowing a nun to be artificial inseminated with his sperm, decided to poison the pope, steal some antimatter, kill the Preferiti, frame the Illuminati, and then save the day in exactly the manner that it played out.
The final twist comes when it's revealed to Ventrasca that he is in fact the child resulting from that artificial insemination; i.e. he is the dead pope's son. Ventrasca decides to kill himself in the least ridiculous way imaginable: He sets himself on fire in front of a crowd outside the Basilica. With all the loose ends wrapped up, Langdon and Vittoria celebrate with a nice meal and some long-deserved lovin'.
Best part of story, including ending:
Dan Brown doesn't appear to understand supersonic flight, antimatter, police investigatory techniques, Harvard, professors, the Vatican, the Swiss Guard, Catholicism, radios and other wireless technology, technology in general, science, or human beings. But if you can look past all that, then it might be worth a read.
Best scene in story:
The opening scene with the murder. Because at this point in the book, I didn't yet realize the many hundreds of pages of sheer stupidity that awaited me. Case in point: the very next scene, which more or less opens with that cliche of all cliches: the main character looking into a mirror and describing himself for the benefit of the reader. Awesome stuff.
Opinion about the main character:
Robert Langdon is a super genius with a fake scholarly specialization who kills world-class assassins with ease. He's the kind of character a nine-year-old might write and then erase, because even a nine-year-old would realize that nobody could believe that.
In this prequel to "The Da Vinci Code", Mr. Langdon attempts to discover the killer of a prominent physicist who was looking to prove that science and religion are intermingled. He crosses paths with the Vatican, along with the Swiss Guard, but the most surprising and unexpected twist occurs at the end, when the real murderer is discovered.
The review of this Book prepared by Eugene Kim