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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Rule of Four

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason. New York: The Dial Press, 2004. ISBN: 0-385-33711-6

Of all the books I've been reading which are purported to be like The Da Vinci Code in some way or other, this definitely ranks up there with the best. The only other tale I've read that even comes close, in my view, is Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte's The Club Dumas.

So what's it all about? The story revolves around a male foursome of Princeton students, roommates and friends, two of whom become caught up in an attempt to unravel one of the most mysterious and remarkable books ever written, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, first published in 1499. Although Tom's father, now deceased, was himself a virtual captive to the book, it is his friend Paul who takes it up as his graduation thesis project, and the two of them spend a good deal of time working on it together.

But Paul's major professor is also known for having been interested in the book, as is another scholar from the previous generation, and as Tom and Paul finally make significant progress toward the unraveling of the mystery found within the book, which turns out to be the location of a hidden crypt filled with ancient texts and works of art, many of which are lost works, no copies extant, death and violence erupt as old enemies clash in the effort to solve the puzzles of the book. Tom also has to weigh his dedication to this ancient book against Katie, the girl he loves.

In the end, joint authors Caldwell and Thomason, described on the flyleaf as "best friends since they were eight years old," have created a masterpiece of suspense and erudite scholarship, blended with the lust for life and pranks of college life as we like to remember it. And they are the only authors so far (from those I've read in my excursions through the lists of books for people who enjoyed The Da Vince Code) who manage to fictionally have their cake and eat it too.

Paul disappears in the climactic events of the novel, but did he die in the fire, along with his erstwhile professor? Or did he escape through the campus tunnel system, which features so prominently in other adventures throughout the story? And is he, even now, engaged in locating the crypt itself in old Italy? Highly recommended.

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