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Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown, is a suspenseful thriller involving a plot to blow up Vatican City while a conclave to elect a new pope is taking place.  The main character, Robert Langdon is a professor of art history at Harvard and an expert on religious symbols.  After telephone conversations with, and the receipt of a fax from, the head of a nuclear research facility in Switzerland, Langdon is flown from Massachusetts to Switzerland in a plane that can make the trip in forty minutes.  A scientist who had succeeded in producing antimatter, has been killed and his body has been branded with a mark that suggests that the crime was the work of the Illuminati, a secret society of scientists opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.  A canister containing some antimatter has been stolen and has the potential to cause a large and dangerous explosion.  The head of the facility receives an urgent phone call from the Vatican, but he cannot go there because of a serious health problem.  Langdon and the scientist daughter of the murdered scientist fly to Rome in the special plane.

In Rome, they meet with the papal chamberlain, a young priest who is in charge of the Vatican during the papal interregnum.  The canister of antimatter has been hidden somewhere in the Vatican and will explode at midnight, completely destroying Vatican City.  The Swiss Guards are ordered to try to find it.  I immediately guessed where it was located, but of course I was not there to tell them.


A further complication is that four cardinals have been kidnapped, and will be killed that night one each at eight, nine, ten, and eleven o’clock respectively at a different location in Rome.  I guessed where the cardinals were being held, but again I was not there to help.  Langdon and the young woman frantically find a slim volume by Galileo in the Vatican library that has clues to where the four cardinals will be killed.  Thus, we know that much of the book will be a frantic dash through Rome (by Langdon, the female scientist, and some Swiss guards) to four different locations to try to prevent the murder of the four cardinals.  And of course there is the ultimate question of whether Vatican City will explode at midnight.

There are other surprising revelations in the book, some of which I had also guessed, and none of which were really surprising.  At times characters talk about the relative merits of religion and science.  As presented in this book, that talk is not very interesting, but it might be to an intelligent ninth grader.

Much of the story is unbelievable.  I realize that Vatican City is an independent country, but wouldn’t the Italian government and police involve themselves if the Vatican were going to blow up and cardinals were being killed at locations in Rome outside of the Vatican?  Italian firefighters put out a fire at one point.  But what about the police?


Although the book does have some flaws as indicated above, it is nonetheless very interesting on the whole and could be described as a page turner.  Whether or not one more or less knows what it is going to happen, reading the story is quite enjoyable.

--John R. Pierce
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Angels and Demons, amazon.co.uk