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Dan Brown, novelist

A new novel?

Yes, his first since 2009's The Lost Symbol. Brown's new novel Inferno, featuring the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon from the incredibly popular Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code books, arrives in shops on 14 May.

It is based, somewhat dangerously, on Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem of the same name. "Although I studied Dante's Inferno as a student, it wasn't until recently that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante's work on the modern world," the American author, 48, said yesterday. "With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm … a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways."

It's every Dante fan's worst nightmare, then?

"If Dan Brown does for Dante what he did for Leonardo," warned Stephen Milner, the Serena professor of Italian at Manchester University, "the general public will probably be delighted, while the scholarly community will probably tear out their hair."

Brown's books, while selling 200 million copies worldwide, are hardly known for subtle erudition. One of the more positive broadsheet reviews of his last work enthused that it was "not quite the literary train wreck expected", while film critics said the books' cinematic adaptations were arguably worse than the original material. But it's not as if Brown never mixed with the literati. He was a contemporary of the beloved highbrow novelist David Foster Wallace: they studied together at the private Amherst college in Massachusetts. A teacher recalled: "With Dan, he was not the star of the class, as David was," politely adding: "Dan was good, but in a much quieter way."

Don't be such a snob

There's no question that Brown can produce a page-turner, and book retailers will be grateful to have a guaranteed best-seller. After 2012 saw a new novel from JK Rowling, the explosion of "mummy porn" and strong sales for The Hunger Games on the back of the film trilogy, there was understandable relief when yesterday's news allayed fears that 2013 would be a damp squib for publishers.

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