So, maybe reviewing half of a book is not the most fair thing to do, but I’m about half of the way through The Rule of Four, probably the most notable of the non-Dan Brown authored so-called “it’s like The DaVinci Code” books popular during the “great historical artifact mystery novel boom of the early-to-mid 2000’s.” It was popular enough to spawn a “the truth behind” sort of exposé into its central historical mystery.
Keeping up the mini-review theme, here’s a mini re-cap: the historical artifact is a book written in the late 1400’s, entitled Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. If you’re familiar with The DaVinci Code, replace “works of art” with “big book.” But, The Rule of Four, so far (of course), rises above whatever one would consider the DaVinci Code to be in terms of quality with actual interesting writing with (what we so ambitiously learned in 7th grade) “voice,” not just the author writing “x,y,z, happened, Mr. Smith thought a,b,c, then said, ‘l,m,n.'” Maybe this is just the product of the first-person point-of-view, but it works.
Oddly, the authors move between past tense (normal for adventure-fiction) and present tense depending on the (sometimes upcoming) action. It works for creating tension, but once you realize that they move between the two tenses, it’s easy to expect something dramatic to happen as soon as someone “sees” something instead of “saw” it. BUT, the book is enjoyable to read during the parts of “low action,” very unlike The DaVinci Code, so their stylistic choices/risks work out well.
The first half of The Rule of Four receives four stars (coincidentally) due to its setting up of a potentially solid second half. Because of the relative obscurity (compared to anything by Leonardo DaVinci) of the historical artifact in question, there isn’t any built-in suspense. “There’s a murder clue in The Mona Lisa!!!” is interesting on its own, while “There are clues hidden about a 600 year old secret in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili!” gets more of the “huh?” response than intrigued readers. BUT, being that the authors are tasked with not only devising an interesting story, but making readers intrigued in an historical artifact they’ve never heard of, they’ve succeeded admirably on both fronts: making me curious about this 600 year old book and wondering how their book will end.