Brown is back, with silly plots, codes and terrible prose back

<strong>THE</strong> <strong>LOST</strong> <strong>SYMBOL</strong><br />BY DAN BROWN<br />Bantam Press, &pound;18.99<br /><br />WITH AN initial print run of a million copies in the UK alone, and 6.5m worldwide, there is no doubt that Dan Brown&rsquo;s latest &ndash; the follow-up, as you will know, to the Da Vinci Code &ndash; will be a publishing phenomenon.<br /><br />Robert Langdon, professor of symbology at Harvard University (no less) is back, and this time he&rsquo;s unpicking a conspiracy that involves &ndash; you guessed it &ndash; a shadowy group of people who secretly run the world. In this case the Masons are involved. There are tunnels under the Capitol in Washington and strange, bloody rituals. And, obviously, codes galore to be cracked. <br /><br />The whole Dan Brown phenomenon is a curious one, and it has been said that his books appeal to people who are attracted to conspiracies which offer a glimmer of order in a chaotic world. Maybe that&rsquo;s true. <br /><br />What is truly odd about Brown&rsquo;s books is their total lack of seriousness. Literature is packed with fantastic plots, happenings and characters, but they are there to try to illustrate something about the world. Even as Michael Crichton&rsquo;s best-sellers became more fruity they always had a serious intent &ndash; to question our attitudes towards technology.<br /><br />But in Brown&rsquo;s books there is no attempt to do anything other than tell a ripping yarn. It&rsquo;s quite a feat to write so witlessly, and it gives the books a quite bizarre feeling, as if they are written by an alien with a rudimentary grasp of English syntax, but no feeling for it or what it is commonly used for. <br />The characters are sketchy, the events have no ring of truth, the prose feels like it is staggering to get to the end of each sentence. It&rsquo;s dreadful. But millions of people will still buy it. <br /><br />All we can hope is that the inevitable film does not reach its climax as absurdly as Angels and Demons did, with Ewan McGregor in a cassock parachuting out of a helicopter carrying an anti-matter bomb over the Vatican. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed. <br /><br />Jeremy Hazlehurst<br /><br />BRUTE FORCE<br />BY ANDY MCNAB<br />Corgi Books, &pound;6.99<br /><br />AT THE other end of the spectrum from Dan Brown comes Andy McNab. Since the publication of Bravo Two Zero, the former SAS man has (via his ghost-writer) become one of the biggest properties in British publishing. Unlike Dan Brown&rsquo;s, these books completely deserve to be as popular as they are. <br /><br />Brute Force is the tale of former SAS-man Nick Stone and his spy sidekick Lynn &ndash; although who is pulling the strings is slightly unclear &ndash; and with its Libyan theme, this paperback could not come out at a better time. The action starts in Tripoli and soon a sadistic killer with a fondness for Black and Decker&rsquo;s finest appears, and soon he has Stone in his sights. <br /><br />The prose has a cool, casual tone with a lots of swagger. The tone is closer to Len Deighton&rsquo;s Harry Palmer than James Bond &ndash; you can&rsquo;t imagine 007 in Norwich &ndash; and it is both faster than Forsyth and cannier than Le Carre. It&rsquo;s not going to make it on to any English Literature courses, but the pages just refuse to remain unturned. <br />JH<br /><br /><strong>FOR</strong> <strong>RICHER</strong> <strong>FOR</strong> <strong>POORER</strong><br />BY VICTORIA COREN<br />Canongate, &pound;16.99<br /><br />VICTORIA COREN is one of the more unusual characters in the poker world, which also makes her one of the most intriguing. A well-known journalist and broadcaster of literary programmes away from the tables, she seems the opposite of the unsophisticated loners and weirdos inhabiting the cardroom of the Victoria Casino on the Edgware Road. It&rsquo;s here, however, that Coren not only became a skilled cash player, but scored her most high-profile success, with a &pound;500,000 victory in the European Poker Tour.<br /><br />The story of her love affair with the game is mercifully free of the sarcasm and quippery one might associate with her family members (journalist Alan Coren was her father). In fact it is heartfelt, beautifully observed and at times quite moving &ndash; her description of her fellow players&rsquo; response to news of her dad&rsquo;s death is extremely touching.<br /><br />Beginning with her discovery of poker as a teenager, the book not only follows Coren&rsquo;s path from part-time cash player to poker celebrity, but provides a highly personalised, insider&rsquo;s view of the game&rsquo;s growth from grubby cardrooms to billion-dollar business, via early TV shows, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo and any number of weary stops in strange cities in between. It&rsquo;s a love letter to those loners and weirdos Coren happily calls her other family, told with conviction and charm. <br /><br />Timothy Barber