Sunday, May 23, 2004


The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason is not a book I would normally read; an all plot sort of thriller aimed for bestseller-dom. But because it was a thriller/mystery surrounding a book, I fell for it. The book is a fast read and nothing more than brain candy. Entertaining for a rainy day or the beach. If you don't expect anything more from it, then you will enjoy it. The plot centers around a 500 year old book, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance text that scholars are sure has a secret and no one has been able to solve it. Until now. Tom Sullivan, the main character, and from whose point of view the story is told, is a senior at Princeton. Tom's father used to be one of the foremost Hypnerotomachia scholars until he died when Tom was in high school. Tom resented the book because his father always paid more attention to it than he did to Tom. At Princeton Tom meets Paul Harris a fellow student who thinks Tom's father was a god and who is obsessed with the book. Tom and Paul become best friends. Tom finds himself being drawn into the mysteries of the book and becomes trapped in a love-hate relationship with it. The Hypnerotomachia is a real book, though its mysteries remain mysteries in the real world. In The Rule of Four we are told that Tom and Paul are brilliant students, but it still is difficult to believe that two college kids can solve what scholars could not. All of the characters throughout are shallow and their motives are sometimes contrived and often convenient. The actual writing is pedestrian and riddled with grammar problems and clunky sentences. If you cannot suspend your inner editor for sentences like this: "On the way back to the dorm, a Dumpster[sic] has been overturned," then don't open the book. I imagine, however, this book will eventually be made into a movie. It's the kind of book Hollywood likes. If you are looking for a thriller/mystery surrounding a book, I recommend Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. It is a much more satisfying read than The Rule of Four.