Deception Point, Dan Brown

Pocket, 2001, 557 pages, C$11.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-02738-7

Books seldom get a second chance. Most of them surface in bookstores, don’t sell all that well and disappear in a whimper, never to resurface. In lucky cases, they may be reprinted after a movie adaptation or a runaway bestseller by the same author. In Dan Brown’s case, his publisher didn’t just get one mega-seller with The Da Vinci Code: It got three bonus best-sellers by reprinting Brown’s previous novels, none of which had sold all that well during their first print runs. (The good news is that if you’ve got one of those first editions, you can pretty much pay for your next holidays by selling it to collectors.)

And so that’s how Deception Point re-emerged in bookstores three years after original publication, granted a second life by the boffo success of Brown’s fourth novel. For fans of The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, how does Brown’s third novel stack up?

The least one can say is that there is consistency to his method, even though the atmosphere of the book is different from the “Robert Langdon” thrillers. Deception Point is more political (not partisan, mind you, but with a number of power-playing politicians as characters), more action-oriented and, in some respects, closer to a typical techno-thriller than Brown’s best-known works. For those who complained that The Da Vinci Code was all talk and little action, have a look at this one.

It starts in Washington D.C., as protagonist Rachel Sexton is sent to an Arctic glacier on behalf of the president. Her mission: validate a revolutionary scientific find that you won’t have any trouble guessing ahead of time. But things aren’t so simple, of course. For one thing, Rachel is the daughter of another politician with excellent chances of taking over the White House. For another, there are three Delta Force operatives buried in the snow, making sure that everything goes according to plan…

No doubt about it: Deception Point is a full-bore, straight-ahead thriller that faithfully understands the rules of the genre. Exotic facts, clear characters, steady forward momentum and unobtrusive writing are the norm here, and it’s not hard to imagine Brown asking himself “How can I juice up this storyline?” over and over again. As a result, there are the usual nick-of-time escapes, chases, explosions, fancy deaths and ruthless operators. It’s formulaic, but it works really well in sucking the reader from one tight chapter to another. While the literary and religious world have united in condemning Brown’s success, faithful thriller readers can only appreciate that Brown is just doing what he’s supposed to do. NRO, nuclear submarines, oceanographic research, high-tech weaponry, White House operational details, woo-hoo!

It’s not all good, of course. A number of errors here and there spoil the effect (somehow, I don’t think that an entire meteorite can be heated up by a focused laser), but not as much as a few outrageous developments. In his quest to amplify the impact of his storyline, Brown often overreaches, and the reader is abruptly reminded that this is only, after all, a particularly sophisticated thrill machine. (This impression gets worse as the book nears its end and lasts just a bit too long.) Brown does himself disservice by swearing up and down that technologies described in the book all exist: knowledgeable readers will roll their eyes at the ways he stretches a number of point. His sources of inspiration are also obvious: Echoes of 1996-1998 Bill Clinton are obvious in at least two separate plot threads.

Worse yet for Brown fans is the way he repeats himself from one novel to another. Never trust his mentor characters! What’s both amusing and infuriating is the way Brown is willing to take on sacred cows (the Vatican, CERN, here NASA) in his quest for ever-more fantastic antagonists: While it may be interesting to read about, it also sends a generally muddled message –assuming messages are what Brown wants to send.

Otherwise, well, this is another solid thriller from a writer suddenly hyped beyond any reasonable chance of fulfilling expectations. It may or may not be better, from a technical perspective, than The Da Vinci Code, but it’s sure to offer what people are looking for when they’re picking up a thriller. It seldom slows down during its 550+ pages, and neither will readers.

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