Time and again, I was shocked at his incredulous reactions to the revealed Mason secrets. Here we have a man who has, among other things, found THE holy grail, and yet he can't wrap his mind around the possibility that a mythic pyramid might actually exist. Moreover, even when pieces of evidence sit in his hands, he refuses to at least acknowledge the possibility of belief. I found this problematic for two reasons. On the one hand, he was never so persistently dubious in the other novels, and on the other, you would think he'd have learned to better see the truth behind the myth after his previous adventures. Contrasting to (and perhaps providing a reason for) this thin treatment is the book's frightening and totally unhinged villain.
Mal'akh is his name, but it's clear from the beginning that's a chosen name, a place holder for his true identity. Covered in tattoos, he is obsessed with transformation; indeed, from a certain point of view, he represents the very idea of change. He has altered his skin, his musculature, his name, and even his masculinity in the pursuit of his ultimate goal. It becomes ironic, then, that he primarily acts in opposition to the societal change which would come about if Langdon and his allies succeed in decoding the mysteries before them. That Mal'akh seems oblivious to this becomes more and more understandable as the reader is plunged into his past.
Greater detail is given about Mal'akh and his development than any other single character. Brown does it through a forced perspective, however, as though we were reading the man's memories simultaneous with his review of them. This keeps the reader from discovering his given name until the last minute, and we are are instead given a glimpse into the development of a monster. From his drug addicted origins in a Turkish prison to his murderous and lascivious escapades, up to his sociopathic focus on the Masons, Mal'akh is a truly chilling character. There are tortures he enacts in the story which will make the skin of even the most stouthearted reader crawl. He is certainly the most vivid of Brown's antagonists. I just wish the author had put the same care into the rest of the novel.