When a renowned scientist is found murdered in his office, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor in art history is summoned to CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, in Switzerland. Langdon is asked to identify a symbol burned on the scientist’s chest. Immediately Langdon realises it has something to do with the secret brotherhood of the Illuminati, a brotherhood thought to have disappeared for ages. Langdon swiftly catches up with the daughter of the scientist, Vittoria Vetra. She shows him her and her father’s laboratory where they executed top secret research on antimatter, the opposite of matter. She explaines Langdon how antimatter has the ability to solve the world’s problem with the decreasing volumes of fossil fuels. However, antimatter can be used for a less honourable case as well. When a few grams of antimatter come in contact with matter they have the same impact as the Hiroshima atomic bomb. It doesn’t take long for Langdon, Vittoria and Maximilian Kohler, CERN’s director, to discover that one particular specimen is missing from the lab: the only specimen hazardous enough to be stored in a reinforced bunker deep underground, containing a lethal amount of antimatter.
Meanwhile in Rome, during conclave, a Vatican security camera is giving a disturbing view. A canister holding a drop of silverish liquid and a countdown timer with only a few hours to go. Quickly contact is made with CERN and Langdon and Vittoria are flewn in to investigate the cause and search for the canister. While they try to find answers the four cardinals most favourite to become the new pope are kidnapped. In a wild chase through Rome Langdon and Vittoria try to catch the villain, but they can’t avoid the cardinals being killed in the most terrible ways. Ultimately they confront the killer in Castel Sant’Angelo and throw him out of a window where he falls to his death. Langdon and Vittoria speed back to the Vatican in order to prevent the catastrophe of the exploding antimatter. They still don’t know however where the canister is. Luckily, the camerlengo, the temporary substitute of the pope gets a hunch and he rushes into St. Peter’s basilica with Langdon and Vittoria closely following his lead. Quickly he descends to the fundaments of the basilica where the old necropolis is situated. Running trough the graves they head for St. Peter’s tomb and finally find the canister, with only minutes to go. The camerlengo decides to take the canister back to ground level and starts running back again. Langdon and Vittoria however try to stop him, for the exploding antimatter will deal less damage while staying underground but they can’t prevent the camerlengo from escaping. Back on the surface the camerlengo jumps in a helicopter and takes off, but not before Langdon has joined him, presuming they will dump the canister somewhere far away in the mountains or in the sea. This is not the camerlengo’s idea though and he keeps going straight up in the air. When reaching the appropriate altitude, the camerlengo locks up the antimatter in a box, takes the only parachute available and waves Langdon goodbye. Fortunately for Langdon, he can use the sunscreen for the helicopter window as a parachute, so he as well, jumps out while above him the timer reaches zero. Surviving the blast and holding on to the screen Langdon crashes into the Tiber and wakes up a few hours later in a hospital. Still not completely recovered Landon hurries back to Vatican City to unveil the camerlengo’s identity. It has been the camerlengo namely who has instructed the killer to murder the cardinals and to steal the antimatter in name of the Illuminati. Through this way the camerlengo had wished to give people back their faith in the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, sacrificing innocent lives was not the right way to achieve such a goal and the unmasked camerlengo chooses to keep the honour to himselve. Drenched in highly flammable oil he sets flame to himself and vanishes before a packed St. Peter’s square.
The story and main characters
Angels and Demons is the foremost example of a genuine pageturner. Its composition is not too complex for the reader and the storyline is build up almost entirely chronological. The power of the book lies in its great tension and the vast amount of open spaces. Also Dan Brown knows very well how to put the reader on a wrong trail, although the perspective is not always seen from main character Robert Langdon but sometimes from the killer’s view as well.
The main character is Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor in his mid-forties, but still quite vital. His task is to investigate the signs left behind by the Illuminati and trace them back to the killer. He has excessive knowledge of ancient symbology and a quick mind which he will have to use during his search. Langdon is calm in most situations and not too afraid to enter new and dangerous ones. He is always a gentleman but sometimes a bit on the naive side. Langdon is aided by Vittoria Vetra, an Italian scientist who works at CERN, together with her father. She is a physical genius, having developed the antimatter technology. As well as her father has she the burning ambition of combining science with religion. With the new technology she hopes to finally join them together as the annihilation (exploding) of antimatter would prove the existance of some kind of God. Vittoria is more of an impulsive person than Langdon is and she provides the extra push Langdon sometimes needs to continue searching. Being relatively new to the world of ancient symbology and the Illuminati she can’t help Langdon very much in his quest for clues but she tries to aid him where she can. Vittoria is a fierce woman, who does’nt allow others to push her aside and that’s a quality I like.
Help from the Vatican comes from camerlengo Carlo Ventresca and commander Olivetti of the Swiss Guards. Ventresca is quite young for such a position as camerlengo and prime advisor of the pope. Yet he is often praised for his extensive knowledge of scripture and his wise and deliberate decisions. Carlo Ventresca shares quite a lot of characteristics with Robert Langdon. Both men remain for example calm in tense situations and both have the ability to instantly decide what’s right. Although Ventresca turns out to be the ‘evil’ brain behind all the events that dreadful day he did it for a greater cause, namely to give people back their faith. Commander Olivetti is in first instance for Langdon more of a hindrance. When Langdon arrives at the Vatican for example, Olivetti has him and Vittoria locked up in his office while he is dealing with some other affairs. Langdon manages to get out, to the rage of Olivetti, but both see that the only way to get out of this precarious situation is to team up. Nevertheless, Olivetti remains in doubts. While Langdon needs to break some rules, to enter the Vatican archives for example, Olivetti struggles with the competing demands. Still, Olivetti is very loyal and will never forsake his men. His stubborness and temper however sometimes make the case more difficult than it could be.
Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN, is by the scientists often referred to as der König, for is way of directing the laboratory. Life has hardened Kohler already at a young age, as he has suffered a severe disease which has made him impaired. Kohler has an aversion against the Catholic church because his parents wouldn’t let doctors heal him, because if it were destined, God would heal Maximilian. He only has survived because a doctor secretly applies the right medicine. Kohler is a noble, but very stubborn man, who never lets anyone stand in his way and doesn’t care what others think of him. He is a very brilliant physician still and that is what has given him his high position of director.
It doesn’t happen often that you can’t put a book away because of the high tension. Angels and Demons is such a book though. In literary aspect the book isn’t of a very high standard, but it’s purely the plot and the way it is unfolded that makes it special. The book doesn’t have a deeper meaning, or a message to proclaim, it’s just there for the reader’s amusement. This makes the composition very clear, the book is constructed all but complex. The answer to the question of who the main villain is remains uncertain almost until the end of the story though. If his true identity is finally unveiled it comes as a great surprise, because it’s the person of whom the reader would have least expected it.
I have appreciated Angels and Demons very much, not only because of it’s unsurpassed plot, but also because of the scenery and the overall subject. I have always had interest in the ancient Roman culture and renaissance art, which I believe, is one of the most beautiful art forms ever created. Let these two subjects have a central position in the book and it’s a winner for me. There are some twists in the plot that are a tiny bit on the implausible side, for example when Langdon flies from North-America to Europe in a special craft capable of flying at a speed of mach 25 (approximately 30 000 km/h). But I take those passages for granted when reading about the Roman art. An added value is especially the fact that I have been in Rome and have seen practically all of the statues, churches and fountains that are referred to in the book. This makes it possible to visualise the passages, which gives the book an extra dimension and added credibility, which makes up for the less plausible passages.
A part of the story I really liked was at the fountain of the four rivers, a great renaissance fountain, designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini, the Renaissance wonderchild. Langdon is still chasing the killer who kills the cardinals at four of the so-called altars of science which form the path of illumination, instigated by the Illuminati as a test for scientists wishing to join the brotherhood. Following this path, Langdon finally manages to be at the altar before the killer does, but he can’t prevent the death of the fourth cardinal. A struggle with the killer in the fountain is what follows and Langdon only survives by pretending to have drowned, but by holding an air hose, normally making bubbles in the water, in his mouth. After the killer has moved away from the scene, Langdon resurfaces again and searches for the final point in his quest by climbing the fountain.
The high tension, as well as the eye for detail make this a memorable scene. First of all it’s not certain wether Langdon has survived or not and secondly everything fits in the scene; the design of the fountain is cleverly used and even the coins laying on the bottom play a role.
A great advantage of Brown’s books is that the reader not only is entertained with an action-packed novel, but that there’s an awful lot to learn as well. Countless renaissance artists and scientists pass by, from Gianlorenzo Bernini (who’s work plays a key role in the book) to Galileo Galilei. All their works are described very accurately and with an eye for subtle details which won’t always even be noticed by spectators seeing the art for themselves.
Angels and Demons is full of surprises and full with tiny but necessairy plot changes, too much to all mention in his report, that make the book such a succes. Angels and Demons reads like a wild rollercoaster ride, there is no moment of pause, or time for a bit of consideration, a time-bomb which is ticking has to be stopped. After all the heavy literature I have read, this book comes as a relief, not too much thinking, plenty of tension and a wonderful setting: in it’s category the best book I have read.