Fiction. Literature. Mystery. Thriller. HTML:A mysterious coded manuscript, a violent Ivy League murder, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide in a labyrinth of betrayal, madness, and genius. THE RULE OF FOUR Princeton. Good Friday, 1999. On the eve of graduation, two students are a hairsbreadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Famous for its hypnotic power over those who study it, the five-hundred-year-old Hypnerotomachia may finally reveal its secrets -- to Tom Sullivan, whose father was obsessed with the book, and Paul Harris, whose future depends on it. As the deadline looms, research has stalled -- until an ancient diary surfaces. What Tom and Paul discover inside shocks even them: proof that the location of a hidden crypt has been ciphered within the pages of the obscure Renaissance text. Armed with this final clue, the two friends delve into the bizarre world of the Hypnerotomachia -- a world of forgotten erudition, strange sexual appetites, and terrible violence. But just as they begin to realize the magnitude of their discovery, Princeton's snowy campus is rocked: a longtime student of the book is murdered, shot dead in the hushed halls of the history department. A tale of timeless intrigue, dazzling scholarship, and great imaginative power, The Rule of Four is the story of a young man divided between the future's promise and the past's allure, guided only by friendship and love..
Holy shit what a weird mash of things going on here. For one, the authors truly wished to showcase their knowledge of Princeton and it’s inner workings. They needed to go out of their way to
And then there was the whole character of Paul and Tom. I highly doubt that Tom if given a choice between spending time with a girl, and spending time with a guy and a musty old book, would actually choose the latter. College boys are not this dedicated to scholarship. Especially on some dry tome that basically drove Tom’s father to obsession and death before even coming close to the meaning of it all. And Paul is worse; he doesn’t even have a token girlfriend to distract him from his thesis. A thesis as an undergrad? How weird. But he too is a driven scholar who has no social life and thinks he can crack the mystery that smarter men have failed to crack.
Which brings me to the 3rd thing; why are these boys so light years ahead of their predecessors? It makes no sense that people with decades of learning into subjects not even broached by Paul and Tom should fail to unlock the secret of the book. Two kids with barely enough hormones between them to have a wet dream are the ones to unlock the visceral secrets of this ancient text…yeah right.
The idea of a mystery within an otherwise strange but innocuous text is a good one. But using college kids as a way to solve it when many others have gone before is a stretch. And the ending being a map and directions to a centuries old cache of hidden art treasures that would have otherwise been burned by fanatics is a really odd mystery. Compounded by the fact that they cryptically show one boy signaling to the other via equally cryptic messages that he has found said cache and go join him yonder, well that’s just out of the tethers of reality. That and the fact that none of it seems to have decayed despite the lack of hermetic sealing technology.
Tom Sullivan is a senior at Princeton University living on campus with his three roommates. They are Paul Harris, Charlie Freeman and Gil Rankin. Tom’s father devoted his life to trying to decipher the secret behind the book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Paul has made the book the topic of his senior thesis. Tom assists Paul but keeps backing away from the commitment; he’s seen firsthand what the obsession did to his father and what the senior thesis is now doing to Paul. Tom doesn’t want it ruining his life too. Charlie is a premed major and the moral compass of the roommates. Gil is the roommate with all the “right” connections who wants to do his own thing but places a high value on his friendships. The title of the book refers to the four roommates and a system of measurement.
Some people will find the book dreary and others will find it exciting. Looking at the Amazon reviews people either love this book or hate it. The story begins on Easter weekend. In the first ten chapters only one or two hours of the weekend have passed but the roommates have all been introduced, been chased through some underground tunnels, and lost their pursuers in the Nude Olympics crowd. Murder, academic intrigues, cracked codes and more follow in the remaining chapters. There was one bit in the timeline about three-fourths of the way in the book where I got lost and that is when my attention wavered a bit. However, soon things got back on track. The ending wasn’t a surprise but it was satisfying.
Somewhere on the internet I read Caldwell and Thomason were working on a second novel together. It hasn’t been released so it can be assumed it wasn’t finished or wasn’t picked up by a publisher. It’s too bad; after finally reading their debut novel I was looking forward to their sophomore effort.
In terms of the storyline, The Rule of Four was bogged down by too many subplots, relationships between the 4 protagonists and their friends/family, etc. After a while, it's difficult to keep track of the minor characters and the argument behind the Hypernotomachia Poliphili. Figuring out the codes and riddles, solving mysterious, finding the murderer, these are potentially interesting, but on the whole, the Hypernotomachia Poliphili is too obscure a manuscript to really make you want to research more into its origins, or to really care about the arguments put forth as to who wrote it and why it was written.
This is why The Da Vinci Code is so hugely popular - da Vinci, the painter himself, is a familar figure and the conspirarcy theories suggested are intriguing, making you question your own beliefs about truth and facts. I mean I actually searched for a picture of The Last Supper to see if the figure on Jesus' right was really a woman.
Conclusion, The Rule of Four is fairly readable and enjoyable, but not nearly as exciting and a page-turner as The Da Vinci Code. If you like riddles, ancient manuscripts, murder mysteries, you'll probably like this book.
This book is the work of amateurs. Plot elements are laid bare with only superficial attempts at building suspense. The central quartet of characters are shallow and unendearing. This reads more like a freshman guide to Princeton than a mystery novel. The 'mystery'
It has to do with four college seniors, roommates who are all studious,
The novel is notable for its extremely believable and realistic portrayal of campus life at Princeton (one of the authors is a graduate of that school), and for a very nice job of meshing the unraveling of both the literary mystery and the actual 'action' of the plot. It's a long book, but a very quick read.
The story is set at Princeton University, and as it's written (very obviously) by a Princeton grad,
The plot ostensibly revolves around a Renaissance manuscript that holds lots of deep secrets that are disguised in codes and riddles. That's fine, but it's remarkable how little of this long (521 pages in paperback) book actually involves this conceit. One thing I noticed: one of the tricks the author of the mysterious book employed (don't worry; I'm not giving much of anything away) was to hide his 'real' text within a much longer, and essentially irrelevant, text that served as a cover. I wondered: did the authors of this book do just the same thing? That is, it seems like the original structure of this book is a sophomoric bildungsroman, and that later on the elements of a hastily-assembled thriller were worked in, perhaps to catch the wave of interest in this sub-genre. If so, it worked, because I guess this one's been a best-seller. But I'd recommend staying far away from it.
Ann, who did enjoy the challenge, felt you needed a love of history and accumulating knowledge to get the most from this book, and she loved the ‘mystery within the mystery’ that ran throughout. Viti also found some value within its pages and the historical tidbits that were scattered through the story.
But the overall opinion was that Rule of Four did not quite make the grade for a good novel. To much work required, tedious and characters that did not connect were among the majority of views. Would it have been different if we read this book at the beginning of the year? Probably not. Our book club has a well developed sense of what they like, and are not easily convinced otherwise.
So it is on to a new year of reading, which gets everyone excited about what we will discover. Keep an eye on this blog for our latest reviews of 2013.
Not that Da Vinci code sets the bar very high,
Above all, if you're going to market yourself as a Da Vinci code rival, you need a boffo reveal at the end ... something like, say, Jesus was married! The secret revealed at the end of this tale is neither original nor particularly interesting. Even worse (from a plotting standpoint), it's buried after a long passage of endnote-type text, way after whatever shreds of suspense the authors managed to generate have unravelled and you're just wishing the thing would dribble to an end.
Rarely have I ever read a book that was in more desperate need of workshopping! I have to believe a group of professional writers, given the chance, would have warned the authors that (1) giving characters elaborate backstories doesn't necessarily make them interesting or likeable, (2) manufacturing/sustaining suspense requires pacing and a credible threat, (3) if you're going to write a book about codes and puzzles, your readers are going to expect you to sustain a certain standard of logic, and (4) leave present tense to the professionals!
This book reminded me a lot of A.S. Byatt’s Possession. The
I personally loved it, but can see why others might not. I’m all for puzzles, bibliomysteries and obsessions!