LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) - Early reviews of Dan Brown's fast-paced fourth book in "The Da Vinci Code" series labelled it a "clunky" page-turner that will nevertheless delight his fans.
Critics said the dark mysteries, mind-bending codes and history-laced tourism in "Inferno" will thrill Brown devotees, but panned the U.S. author for passages they said were more suited to a Hollywood film script than a novel.
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon returns in this latest sequel to the blockbuster book and film franchise to follow a trail of clues about 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri across Florence, Venice and Istanbul in a race to save the world from a deadly artificial plague.
New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin said the novel has a shaky opening that appears to put Brown's "brainiac franchise" in trouble, but recovers swiftly.
"To the great relief of anyone who enjoys him, Mr. Brown winds up not only laying a breadcrumb trail of clues about Dante (this is "Inferno," after all) but also playing games with time, gender, identity, famous tourist attractions and futuristic medicine," she wrote.
Sales of the book reached the highest level of customer pre-orders at retailer Waterstones since the release of Harry Potter author JK Rowling's adult fiction "The Casual Vacancy" last year.
The Independent newspaper's Boyd Tonkin called the novel "clunky but clever" in a review that asks whether Brown can make a go of one of the oldest plots in fiction - mad scientist threatens world with doom machine.
"Can Brown re-engineer these over-familiar devices of outbreak, pestilence and contagion into a viable organism? However clunkily, he can," Tonkin writes.
But Financial Times reviewer AN Wilson panned "Inferno" as a "nonsensical story" loaded with "scientific gobbledygook" and pointing out Brown's repetitive reliance on the fame of every historical site Langdon comes across.
"The prof and his doctor race past 'Florence's famed Cathedral', and Vasari's 'famed Studiolo', not forgetting the 'world-famous Uffizi Gallery'," Wilson wrote.
"Inferno reads less like a novel than a 'treatment' for a thriller film."
Back in America, USA Today's Brian Truitt offers Brown's novel three and a half stars out of four in a review that calls the book "one hell of a good read".
"Brown has a definite formula in place for putting Langdon through his paces, but watching him go through hell is about as close as a book can come to a summertime cinematic blockbuster," Truitt wrote.
Brown's religion-themed mystery novel "The Da Vinci Code," was published in 2003 and was made into a hit film starring Tom Hanks. It spent more than a year at the top the New York Times bestseller list. (Reporting by Li-mei Hoang; Writing by Paul Casciato; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)