Following the execution of renown futurist Edmond Kirsch at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao prior to an announcement that, he claimed, would challenge the fundamentals of human existence and thereby replace religion with science, Harvard Symbology professor Robert Langdon is embroiled in a plot to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret, while targeted by a mysterious enemy who always seems one step ahead. And while the early chapters are promising, Origin lacks the thrills and smarts of Langdon’s earlier capers, with author Dan Brown delivering a formulaic, vaguely compelling romp.
In trademark fashion, ideologies clash in Brown’s latest thriller. Religious leaders incandescent about the ramifications of Kirsch’s findings are potential suspects in his murder, but that drama is diminished by the telegraphing of the story’s overarching villain very early on in the piece. Much of the plot’s momentum is built on Kirsch’s revelations, but readers are made to wait so long for those details, you’ll fear there’s no way it’ll live up the hype, and of course, it doesn’t. Kirsch’s proclamations are the stuff science fiction authors have been hypothesising for ages, and while Brown is certainly entitled to explore this theme too, it lands with a whimper.
The lacklustre punchline mightn’t matter if the lead-up ever moved out of first gear. Origin is insufferably plodding and formulaic, the latter of which can be overcome if the plot, and the prose, had even a fragment of gusto. Richard Stark’s Parker novels retained the same blueprint, but were always exciting, because the stories were told briskly and enthusiastically, replete with interesting characters. Brown’s tale is populated by colourless characters, many of whom are allowed too many pages for mundane internalised monologues. It says something when your post interesting character is an A.I. named Winston. There is just so little bravado in this tale; there’s no velocity. Every thirty or forty pages I would pause and reflect on how another author might streamline certain chapters and scenes; how it could be made pacier.
Packaging religion, science and art, alongside cryptic puzzles and last-minute escapes-from-dire-peril into a cohesive, page-turning potboiler is Dan Brown’s speciality. It was done with aplomb in Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, and less successfully with its successors. Origin isn’t anywhere near to the author’s best. The hunt for Kirsch’s answers to the questions that have perennially plagued mankind — Where do we come from? Where are we going? — tugs on your curiosity, but its pedestrian unravelling will suppress your need to know.