Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

So I bought one of Dan Brown’s regular thrillers, figuring that he can pace a scene well, and that I might like one of his books better if it’s not peddling daft conspiracy theories. This one promised a lead, NSA cryptographer Susan Fletcher, fighting for her country, her life, and the life of the man she loves. That promise was not honoured.

First, her life. Susan’s part of the story takes place entirely within the NSA’s cryptography offices, with two men fighting over a situation with its codebreaking computer. Neither man wants her dead, and no one else is in a postion to threaten her. She does have to run away from a fire at one point, and we’re treated to a “will she be raped or not” moment at the hands of each man. Oh, and one of the men is her boss, who is “like a father to her.” She flees and hides a lot, but she doesn’t fight.

Second, her country. Well, there’s that situation with the computer. But the closest she comes to fighting is deciding which of the two men she is going to follow; a decision that does not even prove critical to which of them is victorious.

Thirdly, the life of the man she loves. While all this is going on he (David) is in Spain looking for a vital clue. He gets to chase around and investigate. He also nearly gets killed; Susan’s “fighting for him” amounts to crying loudly enough when she sees his apparent corpse on a videophone that he wakes up, and apparently heals.

The final scene is also over videophone as an assortment of characters try to solve some codes and save the day. Despite Susan being the genius, scientist, and CODEBREAKER, it’s David who makes most of the breakthroughs. It’s also David who – in their habit of sending coded messages to each other – who comes up with the one she can’t break. So at the last, the man outdoes her in her own field.

Is this really what passes for a strong female lead?


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s the only book of his I’ve read, and it was enough to keep me away. I second everything you say here. Plus, those were the most static characters I’ve ever read in anything. He may know some interesting stuff to write about, but he needs a partner who can write character to help him. Desperately.

    Alternately, he could just write about robots.

  2. Michelle says

    Ouch. Funnily enough, I was at a book sale this past weekend and considered picking up one of his paperbacks just to see if “I might like one of his books better if it’s not peddling daft conspiracy theories,” as you said. Kind of glad I didn’t.

  3. Kate says

    I hate Dan Brown. He can’t write a three-dimensional female character to save his life, and a lot of his descriptions reek of sexism.

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