Interminable passages of undergrad philosophizing and maudlin musings over puppy-love affairs throw sand in the gears of what wants to be a thrilling and erudite mystery. The optimist will sense the book stirring when the authors occasionally return to the (alleged) crux of their story: the deciphering of the inscrutable real-life document, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and the fantastic secret it claims to harbor. However, the construct collapses there, as well. Given carte blanche to invent a complex, original, and challenging puzzle, Caldwell and Thomason offer a series of grade-school ciphers or incoherent riddles uncovincingly solved by rapid intuitive leaps, becoming a tedious game of academic name-dropping. 500-year-old mysteries crumble before the razor intellects of four towel-snapping laser tag jockeys. If even our hero can't muster enough excitement over it to dump his self-indulgent, sophomoric girlfriend, why should the reader care?
This has been called 'The DaVinci Code for smart people.' If so, that book must be quite bad. Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Club Dumas), Eco, and even Neal Stephenson are all better alternatives for this sort of thing.