Book Review: The Rule of Three by E. G. Scott
Poker Night in the exclusive gated community of Kingsland, New York comes to an explosive close when a series of frantic 911 calls comes in to dispatch. The first is by far the most pressing. The normally composed and elegant Victoria Barnes has come home to find her politician husband shot to death in his study, and fears that his assailant might still be in the house.
As the police are mobilized to deal with this emergency, another Kingsland resident—Victoria’s friend Monica Nichols—discovers not only her husband’s gun box out and empty but her husband himself missing from their home, having sent her only a cryptic text by way of explanation. Soon after, Victoria’s sister Laura Mathers is summoned to the hospital: Her husband was found wandering down a forested road, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the head. He’s been put into a medically induced coma in hopes of saving his life, though things still look pretty touch and go.
The three women are shocked by these developments but not necessarily surprised, given what they know of their husbands. All three men are fairly terrible people, as lead police detective Wolcott soon learns:
Terry Barnes, the former congressman and very-well-connected resident of Kingsland–and probably the lowest of the three on the notoriety scale–who managed to court his own share of controversy in certain sectors by staying in the good graces of the NRA with his staunch support of pro-gun legislation. I flash momentarily to the gruesome scene in the den and flinch at the morbid irony. Next up is Spencer Nichols, the disgraced former CEO of Galapagos, Inc., the geotracking company that touted the groundbreakingly small scale of the nanotech it developed–devices tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin, I remembered reading. Nichols was all over the news last year after Galapagos was found guilty of defrauding investors; and last but certainly not least, Gil Mathers, the deliriously successful motivational speaker whose career was undone after video leaked of him at a party, surrounded by drugs and underage women, drunkenly belittling the very people who looked to Gil for inspiration to better themselves.
The three men took part in a long-standing poker game every Sunday evening at the Barnes’ house while their wives gathered together in the Nichols’ home for book club. Each man was influential in his own way, but together seemed like the perfect, unstoppable force for any endeavor they might set their minds to. Unfortunately, tensions between the men had begun publicly boiling over well before that fateful night, leaving Kingsland shell-shocked in the aftermath of what seems to be a friendship gone murderously awry. Their wives are left to pick up the pieces while also dealing with their own complicated emotions in the wake of so much violence.
Each of the women has had a fairly ambivalent relationship with her spouse, as we and the investigating officers discover over the course of this novel. Having grown up in a wealthy, prominent family, Victoria and Laura are used to keeping up appearances, standing loyally by their loved ones in the face of intrusive media and cruel gossip alike. To the sisters, Texan Monica is a wildcard whom they’ve invited into their lives despite her rough-around-the-edges nature, and not just because it would seem unkind to un-invite her from their book group while their husbands all play poker together. Insecure Monica is grateful to have friends again after having to leave California in disgrace following her husband’s release from prison. Kingsland has become something of a refuge for her, and she eventually realizes why:
Vicky often reminds me that things are different here. Neither Vicky nor Laura has laid it out explicitly, but I’ve come to understand why no one is going to run us out of town. Most of the residents of Kingsland Estates have dark splotches on their own reputations, which keep them safely ensconced in their own glass houses, rock-free. We’ve all been “canceled” for our transgressions in some form, or more accurately, looking around at the room full of younger, exotically beautiful women, our husbands have.
Following along as we discover what happened to the men and why makes for entertaining reading, even if whodunnit seemed pretty obvious to me from quite close to the beginning. The husbands’ hypocrisy and outright appalling behavior was breathtaking, such that readers will feel like they each got their just desserts. I was also amused by the constant references to the fictional self-help book, The Rule Of Three, that gives this novel its title, especially given how much it annoyed Gil, the cult motivational speaker who views the woman-penned manual as a threat to his own brand.
This summer beach read serves up plenty of commentary on wealthy suburbia and privilege, and is a great thriller for anyone looking to see terrible men get their deserving comeuppance.