Sometimes a book is just killed by its own hype. You will read the book cover and find some absurd hyperbole, and the content has no chance of measuring up to the expectation. For this to happen, the book has to have a certain amount of mediocrity, and the hyperbole must be spectacular.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened with The Rule of Four. If Umberto Eco, Dan Brown and Scott Fitzgerald had collaborated on a book, the result would have been this one. Highly unlikely, I would say. Instead, it turns out to be a lame mystery based on a lame plot with lame figures.
The story almost entirely plays within the confines of the Princeton campus. A group of student friends concerns themselves with the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii, a rather obscure (so the book says) Renaissance text that turns out to be riddled with hints and puzzles that all lead to a mysterious secret.
Of course, the evil professors are after the puzzles, too. A mysterious fight ensues for the primacy in translating the riddles. The students have the upper hand until the professors cheat, and then catastrophe ensues.
If the plot is boring, at least the puzzles could be interesting. Instead, they are presented to us on one page and always solved immediately thereafter, reducing the suspence to nothing, especially after this artifact is obvious after the first few tries. Since we as readers are not allowed to try to guess the answer ourselves, we follow the book with even less interest than it deserves.
In the end, the only memorable thing coming out of this read is a somewhat deeper knowledge of the internal workings of an Ivy League school.