Dan Brown's new book Inferno published in May
His most famous book established Jesus's living bloodline - now Dan Brown is taking his readers into Hell.
As befitting the author of The Da Vinci Code and its notorious publicity machine, the American novelist yesterday planted a series of clues about his new book on social media before revealing with a flourish that it was to be called Inferno, inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. It will be published in May.
The 48-year-old from New Hampshire has sold more than 200 million books, with Angels & Demons and 2009's The Lost Symbol following the success of The Da Vinci Code. His surprise return follows that of JK Rowling, perhaps his only rival in terms of sales, a few months ago.
Brown revealed he had studied the Inferno, the first of three parts of The Divine Comedy, at university but "it wasn't until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante's work on the modern world".
The author gave little away about the story other than to say: "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."
Editor Jason Kaufman revealed that Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the big- screen adaptations of his earlier work, would once again be the protagonist. He will head back to Europe, presumably Florence, "where he becomes entwined in a mystery that has global ramifications tied to the ominous and truly mesmerising details of Dante's masterful work".
Not everyone was thrilled. Stephen Milner, Serena professor of Italian at the University of Manchester, said: "If Dan Brown does for Dante what he did for Leonardo, the general public will probably be delighted, while the scholarly community are likely to tear out their hair."
But while academics may be sceptical, the same could not be said about retailers. Rik Shane, head of books at Waterstones, said it was "great news for booksellers. The Lost Symbol broke all sorts of sales records on its release in 2009 and this new title is likely to be the best-selling book of 2013".
The Lost Symbol became the fastest- selling hardback since records began, according to Tom Tivnan, features editor of The Bookseller, who welcomed the news, saying: "Big books are what drive the industry."
However, by taking on Dante, Brown is coming up against a man with a multimillion-pound industry of his own. "Dante already has the most enormous cultural history of adaptation, appropriation and repackaging," Dr Milner said.
New translations of his works are regularly released, including an "updated" version last year that referenced Bob Dylan and Star Trek, as well as new commentaries, cartoons and even video games. This year, Clive James is to release his own translation of The Divine Comedy.
The public's obsession with Dante stretches back to the 14th century - the first person to do a commentary on the work was the poet's son. "Dante has been commented on and rewritten from the generation after his death. Dan Brown will merely be another addition to the Dante industry," Dr Milner said.
"There's always been a great Anglo-Saxon fascination with the cult of Dante, and we are talking about a cult," he added. "There's something disquietingly appropriate about an author like Dan Brown involving himself with a figure who has a cult following dating back to the early 14th century."
He continued: "Dante speaks to the virtues and vices of everyday life and about the fears of what lies beyond. The fascination with Dante is that he's incredibly modern in his civic focus. He's also a master of the arts."