Monday, April 03, 2006

It's No Mystery, The Rule of Four

27. The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Fiction, 3-20, p. 368

The Rule of Four alternates between efforts to unravel a code buried within the text of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a very real 15th Century manuscript, and a peak into student life at Princeton. It’s the rituals and rites of Princeton that emerge as vastly more interesting than the mysteries that may lie within the Hypnerotomachi. And that’s bad.

It’s bad because The Rule of Four wants desperately to be a biblio-mystery. The biblio-mystery is a relatively obscure sub-genre, which I enjoy. Readers interested in pursuing this thread are advised to take up John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway novels or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s superb The Shadow of the Wind.

A successful biblio-mystery must involve a book (or books) and there must (naturally) be some mystery associated with the book (or books). A healthy dose of suspense is also an important ingredient.

The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, has the book, but there’s not much mystery and very little suspense.

I suspect that the book rose to prominence on the New York Times’ bestseller list in 2004 because of a clever marketing campaign that suggested “if you liked The Da Vinci Code, you’ll like this.” Maybe some folks did, but the book didn’t resonate with me.

It’s been suggested, by at least one reviewer, that The Rule of Four is more a coming of age novel than it is a proper biblio-mystery. I think that’s about right. The authors have given us a setting and a back story that overwhelms and distracts from their mystery story. Ultimately, The Rule of Four is two books in one and it’s no mystery that that doesn’t work.

No comments:

Post a Comment