I love reading, and most of the books I start are at least pleasant reads and worth finishing. But it is seldom that I pick up a book that completely blows me away.
I had that experience last week reading The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. This pair of authors -- who according to the back of the book, have been best pals since they were eight years old -- have turned out a book that has rocketed into my top ten reads ever.
No mean feat.
This story is about four friends at Princeton University -- introverted, academic Paul; outgoing athlete and pre-med student Charlie; worldly, wealthy Gil; and the narrator, Tom, who is torn between the world of academics and the practical world of jobs and friends and lovers. Paul is working on interpreting the mysterious (real) document Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which dates to the Renaissance, and has never been decoded (if, indeed, it contains a hidden message, which some scholars doubt). Studying the Hypnerotomachia -- the name means "Poliphilo's Struggle for Love in a Dream" -- destroyed the career of Tom's father, and Tom believes contributed to his early death in an automobile accident.
When Paul's obsession with the mysterious document embroils him with the nasty-tempered history professor Vincent Tate and the has-been academic Richard Curry, he is drawn into a web of scheming, backstabbing, and murder that eventually ensnares not only Paul, but his three friends. The book gains momentum throughout, and by the end I was hoping like hell not to be interrupted so I could read "just one more page."
(True story: I had twenty pages left when I was told to put my book away because the plane I was on was getting ready to land. When I found out that the person who was picking me up at the airport was going to be a half-hour late, I was elated, because it meant I could sit on a bench in the sunshine outside the terminal and finish the book.)
A review in the San Francisco Chronicle says that The Rule of Four is a cross between Umberto Eco, The DaVinci Code, and A Separate Peace. It's an apt characterization. It is also a complex, twisty, totally gripping tale, which has the additional frisson of being about an actual historical mystery that has never yet been solved.
In any case, I now have a new contender for my Top Ten Novels list. But enough about that. Stop reading this, and go buy this book. You will not regret it.