Dan Brown’s Secret to Keeping Secrets; The best-selling author visits locations he never plans to write about, just to keep fans and readers guessing

May 16, 2013, 6:17 p.m. ET

Dan Brown’s Secret to Keeping Secrets

The best-selling author visits locations he never plans to write about, just to keep fans and readers guessing

By ALEXANDRA ALTER

When Dan Brown was researching his new novel, “Inferno,” a Dante-themed thriller set in Florence, he visited Michelangelo’s statue of David multiple times, and spent hours studying floor plans of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, home to masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Botticelli. But the Uffizi and the David are mentioned only in passing in “Inferno,” and Mr. Brown never intended to use them to much effect. He visited the sites as a sort of cover, to throw people off and prevent plot points from leaking out. For Mr. Brown, who has made a name for himself writing novels about explosive revelations and codes, secrecy is paramount. So he uses a technique that he has mastered as a thriller writer: misdirection. “If I’m trying to keep things secret, it’s impossible to talk to these specialists without them saying, ‘Oh, my God, you wouldn’t believe who was here today and what he was asking,’ ” Mr. Brown says. “These trips usually take longer than they should, because out of 10 things I see, five of them have nothing to do with the book. I’m constantly trying to keep people guessing as to what I’m doing.”Mr. Brown has good reason to fear leaks. A whole literary subgenre of knockoffs and explainers has sprung up around his books, which have sold more than 200 million copies in 52 languages. Guides to his new novel, such as Greg Taylor’s “Inside Dan Brown’s Inferno,” are already for sale on Amazon. (Mr. Taylor predicted that Mr. Brown would emphasize Dante’s interest in the sacred feminine, but that theme never emerges in the book).

Mr. Brown’s evasive maneuvers seem to work. Little was known about his new novel—apart from the broad subject matter and setting, and a breathless prologue that was released as a teaser—until Doubleday published it this week, with a first print run of four million copies. “Inferno” follows symbologist Robert Langdon, star of “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Lost Symbol” and “Angels & Demons,” as he races around Florence with an attractive, brilliant sidekick named Sienna, trying to unravel a doomsday plot that appears to be connected to Dante’s vision of hell. The first clue is embedded in an altered version of Botticelli’s depiction of Dante’s nine circles of hell. That discovery leads Langdon on a code-cracking tour of some of Florence’s historical hot spots.

Below, a visual guide to Dan Brown’s “Inferno” and some the paintings and locations that actually made it into the novel.

Dante’s gruesome description of what awaits sinners in hell has fascinated artists for centuries. Mr. Brown pays special attention to Botticelli’s 15th-century illustration, which depicts the circles of hell that Dante describes in the “Inferno.” In Mr. Brown’s novel, his protagonist, Robert Langdon, comes across a doctored version of the work. The altered image holds important clues that could help him prevent an impending disaster.

“Langdon recognized the image at once.

The masterpiece before him—”La Mappa dell’Inferno”—had been painted by one of the true giants of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli. An elaborate blueprint of the underworld, “The Map of Hell” was one of the most frightening visions of the afterlife ever created. Dark, grim and terrifying, the painting stopped people in their tracks even today. Unlike his vibrant and colorful “Primavera,” or “Birth of Venus,” Botticelli had crafted his “Map of Hell” with a depressing palate of reds, sepias and browns.”

The 16th-century Renaissance painter, architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari painted this huge depiction of a battle between the warring Duchy of Florence and Republic of Siena. In “Inferno,” Langdon’s code-cracking skills lead him to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, where he studies Vasari’s painting and finds a message, “Cerca Trova,” “seek and find.” Some scholars believe Vasari was pointing the way to a hidden painting by Leonardo da Vinci, but Brown uses the clue to a different effect.

“The military confrontation was absolutely massive—fifty-five feet long and more than three stories tall. It was rendered in ruddy shades of brown and green—a violent panorama of soldiers, horses, spears and banners all colliding on a pastoral hillside.

“Vasari, Vasari,” Sienna whispered. “And hidden in there somewhere is his secret message?”

Langdon nodded as he squinted toward the top of the huge mural, trying to locate the particular green battle flag on which Vasari had painted his mysterious message—CERCA TROVA.”

Langdon realizes that Dante’s death mask holds an important clue to the plot he’s attempting to unravel. The arts-and-culture administrator at the Palazzo Vecchio offers a quick tutorial on the poet’s death mask:

“Some people claim Dante’s exile is the reason why his death mask looks so sad, but I have another theory. I’m a bit of a romantic, and I think the sad face has more to do with a woman named Beatrice. You see, Dante spent his entire life desperately in love with a young woman named Beatrice Portinari. But sadly, Beatrice married another man, which meant Dante had to live not only without his beloved Florence, but also without the woman he so deeply loved.”

In the middle of Mr. Brown’s “Inferno,” Langdon struggles to recall canto 25 of Dante’s “Paradiso.” He suspects it holds an important clue, but he can’t remember the verses. So he ducks into the Church of Dante, a small chapel in Florence, hoping to encounter a Dante fanatic with a copy of the text. No luck, but a tourist has an iPhone, and Langdon Googles the canto.

“The tiny, one-room house of worship is a popular destination for devotees of Dante… According to lore, it was here at this church, at the age of nine, that Dante first laid eyes on Beatrice Portinari—the woman with whom he fell in love at first sight, and for whom his heart ached his entire life….Nowadays, the Church of Dante has become a shrine for the brokenhearted who suffer from unrequited love.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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