three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0
A-RuleFourPrinceton senior Paul Harris is struggling furiously with his thesis, which is due in 24 hours. The problem is the difficult nature of his topic. He’s attempting to decipher the ancient codes hidden deep within the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an unsolved 15th-century Renaissance text composed of seven languages, labyrinthine illustrations, invented words, and riddles that might just reveal the location of a hidden Roman treasure. Paul, his roommate Tom (the son of a deceased Hypnerotomachia scholar), and their friends must crack the book’s ancient codes—and risk their lives in the process.
Dial Press. 384 pages. $24.
ISBN: 0385337116

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"… an unusually intelligent thriller, one that mixes action with unlocking the riddles of an enigmatic text." Robin Vidimos

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"…more intellectually satisfying than emotionally titillating. It’s perfect beach reading for Princetonians, would-be Renaissance scholars and all who are looking to absorb some of the authors’ awesome erudition." Edward Nawotka

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Tom’s introspection is] subtle—Fitzgeraldean, actually—and one of the reasons this odd book is interesting beyond its plot and puzzles. … The Rule of Four is a great read on its own youthfully brash terms." Alice K. Turner

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"a balancing act between riddle-solving and thriller mechanics…. [The] modern aspect of the book lacks novelty while the 500-year-old part seems new." Janet Maslin

Boston Globe HHH
"Although coauthors Caldwell and Thomason manage sprightly prose that is vastly better than that in The Da Vinci Code, there’s nothing here to truly entrance the reader besides the race to the finish. … The Rule of Four survives solely on its plot." Clea Simon

Portland Oregonian 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The book’s current-day plot is deflated by the flatness of the characters: It’s hard to care about the lifeless college lads or the purported villains, and the vapid details of Princeton life." Peggy McMullen

Critical Summary

Despite comparisons to the bestselling Da Vinci Code, critics agree that this debut novel, though it contains similarly complicated codes, murder, and a race against the clock, is a smarter read. Think Donna Tartt or even Umberto Eco. The question is how much energy readers care to devote to a more cerebral, but still thrilling, campus murder mystery and coming-of-age story. Some reviewers thought that the authors, both recent grads, excelled at evoking modern Princeton life. Others felt only the storyline exploring the mystery and myth of the ancient text (a real book) truly sang on the page. The authors reveal their novelistic inexperience at various turns, though write with "precision and bravado" at key moments. The Rule of Four will try to "out-anagram, out-acrostic and out-cipher-text" anything in its path (New York Times). So watch out.