The Power of Three is the story of three high school seniors, friends since elementary school, who are involved in a school shooting a week just before their graduation. One girl, Kat, the class valedictorian is dead, her friend Perri, a drama star is gravely wounded, and Josie the competitive cheerleader is shot in the foot. The Power of Three takes place over the course of the week between the shooting and high school graduation as the police investigate what really happened in the high school bathroom in a swanky, northern Baltimore County suburb. The official story is that Perri shot Kat and Josie and then shot herself, but, of course, that is not the truth.
The actual investigation of the crime is not the focus of this book: it’s the story of the three girls’ friendship and the world of high school girls. Lippman focuses on teenage and adult characters: the police, the school staff, the parents, and the three girls and their close friends. Lenhardt, one of the detectives, says at one point that he’s more interested in an eyewitness and physical evidence rather than motives. As a detective he’s seen lots of rationalizations or lack of rationalizations for murders. Lippman obviously disagrees because she spends the bulk of this hefty book (430 pages in my edition) telling the story of the girls and their friends. Oddly enough, she doesn’t spend much time in Kat or Perri’s heads, which is a bit of a disappointing since they are two thirds of the core group of friends involved in the shooting.
The story begins with a chapter from the perspective of Alexa, a young guidance counselor who has degrees in rhetoric and psychology and whose research focuses on rumors in schools. One thing she aims to do in her work is “allow students to express their feelings without encouraging their paranoia.” (p.180) She is the window into the girls’ worlds, and she’s in our shoes as an outsider. This book feels very much like a journalist delving into the backstory of a school shooting in an affluent town. (Lippman worked for the Baltimore Sun as a reporter for years before she became a full-time crime writer.)
It’s funny that the blurb on the front of the edition of my book talks about the wonderful pacing of the story while I actually felt it to be kind of slow. It was interesting, but it was not a book that I had to finish in a short period of time because I needed to find out what happened next. What kept my interest were the characters who are all trying to cope with the shooting. The actual explanation for the shooting is not the strong part of the story, and I think that’s intentional. I’m as let down by the rationalizations for the shootings as Lenhardt is. I did enjoy this book, but I prefer books with a bit more plot than this one had.
I also reviewed Laura Lippman’s By a Spider’s Thread.