Happy publication day to Dan Brown, whose latest Robert Langdon thriller, "Inferno," officially hits shelves Tuesday. Online, it's already declared its dominance: It's Amazon's No. 1 bestselling book -- thanks to preorders, it has been in the website's top 100 books for 119 days.
Brown, of course, is the author of "The Da Vinci Code." That novel's breathtaking pace, dynamic mystery and the protagonist, renowned symbologist Robert Langdon, surged to the top of bestseller lists when it was published in 2003. The book has sold so many millions of copies worldwide that it has been the bestselling book of this century (although Harry Potter has given Langdon some competition).
"The Da Vinci Code" was preceded by another Langdon thriller, "Angels and Demons" (2000). Both have been made into films starring Tom Hanks, featuring storied European locales.
After the success of "The Da Vinci Code," there was a six-year interval -- one that pained the publishing industry -- before Brown returned with "The Lost Symbol." Now he's on a faster turnaround, taking just four years to get "Inferno" to readers.
Like his other Langdon books, "Inferno" includes puzzles and riddles that go deep into Western culture. This time, he's traded Da Vinci for Dante, the 14th century Italian poet who wrote "The Divine Comedy." The epic poem was written in three parts -- Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, meaning Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.
For those who want to go back to the source of Brown's book, "The Divine Comedy" was recently re-translated by the British cultural critic Clive James. He abandoned the poetic rhyme scheme, terza rima, saying it's too difficult for English to get right, and has written Dante's classic work in a vibrant contemporary vernacular.
Here's how the prologue to Dan Brown's "Inferno" begins:
I am the Shade.
Through the dolent city, I flee.
Through the eternal woe, I take flight
Along the banks of the river Arno, I scramble, breathless turning
left onto Via dei Castellani, making my way northward, huddling in the
shadows of the Uffizi.
And still they pursue me.
Their footsteps grow louder now as they hunt with relentless determination.
For years they have pursued me. Their persistence has kept me underground... forced me to live in purgatory... laboring beneath the earth like a chthonic monster.
I am the Shade.