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    Review of TO THE POWER OF THREE by Laura Lippman (see her website)

    William Morrow, July 2005

    Three girls became best friends in their third grade. Now, a decade later, one of them is dead, one badly wounded, and the third injured in a school shooting. The evidence seems compelling--one of the three girls brought the gun to school. But for what happened next, the one witness's testimony and that left by physical evidence varies. It's up to Police Sergeant Harold Lenhardt to piece together the clues and see if he can arrive at the truth. Guidance counselor Alexa Cunningham wants to help--but she also wants to get Lenhardt into bed which makes her less than the ideal assistant. Still, Cunningham knows one thing--somewhere, there's another witness.

    The story veers back between the tramatic post-shooting period to the earlier lives of the three girls, to the pact they made in the woods behind their homes that they would always remain friends, through their discovery of boys, until their senior year when something went horribly wrong with their friendship. Lenhardt believes that if he could uncover what happened, he would arrive at the truth, but no one is talking.

    TO THE POWER OF THREE is a strange book. None of the characters is especially likable, certainly not admirable although Lenhardt is sympathetic. The three girls/young women were self-absorbed and largely indifferent to everyone around them. Cunningham is superior and annoying. Bit player Eve is interesting but doesn't really have the motivation to drive the story forward. In fact, that is the main problem with the book. Only Lenhardt, whose job, after all, is to solve murders, has a clear goal. And he never seems to do much toward achieving that goal with the final solution to the mystery not really coming from his investigation at all.

    Still, author Laura Lippman's (see more reviews of novels by Lippman) writing is so strong that she pulled me into the story, made me care about these rather shallow (and all too human) characters, each caught up in their own petty problems, infidelities, and dreams. Lippman holds up a mirror to society and lets us see ourselves. It's an unusual approach in a mystery--much more common in literary fiction. But Lippman manages to pull it off, make it interesting.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 7/06/05

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