The novel works on many levels. It is a compelling murder mystery, as young narrator Adso of Elk accompanies the wise William of Baskerville as he uses logic and semiotics to not only solve a murder mystery, but to decipher labrynths and hidden secrets of the vast monastery library. Interwoven with the murder mystery is a virtual course on philosophy and late Middle Ages religion, as Eco provides detailed accounts of the histories of various sects, includes scholarly debate on topics such as the poverty of Christ, and a history of the Catholic Church leading to the establishment of a papacy in Avignon, France.
One is reminded of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as William and Adso use logic and determination to piece together numerous bizarre deaths and occurences at the Abbey, while encountering obstacles and outright hostility by the Abbot and his librarian, to name a couple. The setting of the novel, and the glimpse into a culture that few of us can even imagine, is reason enough to read The Name of the Rose.