Title: The Rule of Four
: Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
Publisher: Dell Publishing Company
Release Date: June 8th 2005
Pages: 450
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery
Purchase: The Book Depository

It’s Easter at Princeton. Seniors are scrambling to finish their theses. And two students, Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris, are a hair’s breadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili–a renowned text attributed to an Italian nobleman, a work that has baffled scholars since its publication in 1499. For Tom, their research has been a link to his family’s past — and an obstacle to the woman he loves. For Paul, it has become an obsession, the very reason for living. But as their deadline looms, research has stalled — until a long-lost diary surfaces with a vital clue. And when a fellow researcher is murdered just hours later, Tom and Paul realize that they are not the first to glimpse the Hypnerotomachia ‘s secrets.

Suddenly the stakes are raised, and as the two friends sift through the codes and riddles at the heart of the text, they are beginning to see the manuscript in a new light–not simply as a story of faith, eroticism and pedantry, but as a bizarre, coded mathematical maze. And as they come closer and closer to deciphering the final puzzle of a book that has shattered careers, friendships and families, they know that their own lives are in mortal danger. Because at least one person has been killed for knowing too much. And they know even more.

Based on the synopsis, I had really high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, the story and mystery did not blow my mind like I expected and the writing was often tedious and long winded.

The Rule of Four takes place at Princeton and revolves around two friends that try to solve the mystery behind a historical text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The thing is that it takes ages for the story to get to the actual point of the mystery and even more ages to get anywhere near solving it. In the meantime the reader has to make do with an insane amount of uninteresting historical and literary puzzles. These puzzles are constructed in such a way that they don’t encourage the reader to think along, which is kind of the opposite of what mystery novels are supposed to do. Moreover, the actual solving of the riddle felt like a complete anticlimax.

The book is slow-paced and contains too many pages for the story it tells.. There is little action and an overkill in back story and subplots that add very little to the story. The writing has potential, but there even seems to be an overkill there. The sentences are so overpacked with expensive words and clever prose, that it actually distracts from the story and makes it hard to get through the pages.

I did like that the authors paid attention to the characterization, even if I wasn’t sympathetic towards the characters themselves. But everything combined made it hard for me to finish the book and makes me conclude that the book did not live up at all to its potential. Thus, in all honesty I don’t recommend reading The Rule of Four.

The Rule of Four






Writing Style







  • Plot has potential
  • Attention to characterization


  • Bad pacing
  • Too much backstory and subplot
  • Uninteresting mystery
  • Anticlimactic
  • Unsympathetic characters