[BOOK REVIEW]Brain or no brain, thriller is anything but

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[BOOK REVIEW]Brain or no brain, thriller is anything but

Promoted heavily as “‘The Da Vinci Code’ for people with brains,” “The Rule of Four” is the latest in an ever-perpetuating genre of books vaunting the thrill of obscure archaeology. Sadly, however, the book loses itself in its esoteric puzzles and riddles while failing to capitalize on the fast-paced cinematic action that drove “The Da Vinci Code.”
Written by Princeton and Harvard graduates Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomas, “The Rule of Four” is formidably cerebral. The plot essentially focuses on four Princeton seniors close to the end of their educational careers at the prestigious New Jersey institution.
Two of them, Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris, happen to be close to unlocking the elusive mystery of a Renaissance text known as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The book, which has actually been the source of frustration for Renaissance scholars worldwide, is purported to hold the secret location of an immense Roman treasure trove. Tom happens to be the son of a Hypnerotomachia researcher who died several years ago in a car accident that left Tom scarred psychologically and physically.
His fervor for decoding the enigmatic text died down after it became an obsession that almost tore apart the rest of his life. Paul carried the burden of completing the task, working as a recluse for months. Consequently, when Paul reveals to a select group of individuals that he has discovered the crucial keys to unlocking the Hypnerotomachia, old sparks are rekindled in a number of different circles.
What ensues is a lukewarm tale of Ivy League intrigue, a murder, several cases of arson and betrayal, as sinister figures try to take or destroy what Paul has unearthed. While Caldwell and Thomas have certainly created a story that immerses readers in intellectual complexities, they leave readers anticipating the stagnant action to take off at some point.
The problem is that the streets, eating clubs and underground utility pipe network of Princeton University exclusively constitute the stifling setting of “The Rule of Four.” Even worse, the authors conclude the story on an incredibly tentative note, intentionally failing to tie together the jumble of loose knots they’ve introduced throughout the book.
Ultimately, “The Rule of Four” is a bit of a disappointment. There are plot holes as wide as barn doors interspersed throughout, and the title isn’t as significant as it might have been.
For all the hype that’s been generated around the book and the claims that designate it as the supreme successor of “The Da Vinci Code,” it certainly falls short.
If you belong, however, to the camp that thought “The Da Vinci Code” relied excessively on Hollywood-esque action and not enough on the intricate puzzles, The Rule of Four is your antidote.


The Rule of Four
By Ian Caldwell and
Dustin Thomas
Dial Books
$14 on Amazon.com


by Phil Chang
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