BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Deciphering a Mysterious Text and Puzzles of the SoulBy JANET MASLIN
Published: May 6, 2004, Thursday
THE RULE OF FOUR
By Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
372 pages. Dial Press. $24.
''The Rule of Four'' is an extremely erudite thriller set on the Princeton campus and constructed around a famously arcane text from the 15th century. This novel's two authors are exquisitely educated and very smart. Nobody knows it better than they do.
The text is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili; its name means the ''struggle for love in a dream'' of a man called Poliphilo. This is a name that two of the book's four main collegiate characters have trouble even pronouncing. But readers may want to start dropping it in conversation, as if this were no more difficult than saying ''Da Vinci Code.'' This fussier but also ingenious novel aspires to out-anagram, out-acrostic and out-cipher-text that one.