Book: The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Would be better if it were shorter

Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
The Rule of Four
Dial Books, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-33711-6
372 pages

The Rule of Four is about Tom Sullivan, a college student, and a few fellow-students who are working on making sense of a mysterious Renaissance book called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo (which is real but used fictionally here). Unlike many of the people who have worked on it before them, including Tom's father, they begin to make real progress. It turns out that the book contains several ciphers and the students begin to solve them. Tom, in particular, becomes obsessed with the book as they start to make progress. And then there's a murder that seems to be related to the book.

The premise is an engaging one, recalling Donna Tartt and Dan Brown. But, alas, the book doesn't come off as well as Ms Tartt's The Secret History or any of Mr Brown's books. Some of the plot elements are obvious and some of those are over-emphasized: Tom's girlfriend fears that she is losing him to the book, Tom finds the power the book has over him makes him think of his dead father, and so on.

More than a little of the prose is overwrought and even the rather interesting ending gets talky. And there's rather more here than most people will find interesting about the details of undergraduate life at Princeton University. If the plot and the prose had been tightened up some, The Rule of Four might well have been excellent fun. As it is, it's only just worth reading.

There are a small number of mistakes in the text: A person lifts a manhole cover with his hands (p. 18) and there's "shoe-in" for "shoo-in" (p. 104).

Posted: Tue - July 13, 2004 at 09:00   Main   Category: