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  • Caitlyn Lynch

Book Review: The Third Rule by Andrew Barrett

In a quite near future Britain, a new party has risen to power on a platform of stopping crime. The Rules are simple; break the law in any way, you’re on a Rule One. Three strikes… and you’re out, sent to the newly-built ‘slaughterhouses’ and put to death in a revived capital punishment law.

CSI Eddie Collins, reeling in the wake of personal tragedy, is just trying to get back to work and on with his life. Sent to examine the very car which took his son’s life in a hit-and-run by a vindictive colleague, he suddenly finds something to live for - revenge. But following the evidence, with the help of an old journalist friend, leads down a rabbit hole of corruption reaching to the very top of the government itself.

Author Andrew Barrett is a CSI himself, and it shows in the amazing attention to forensic detail in the story. There are a number of separate narratives and perspectives in the book, enough to puzzle the reader at the beginning, but slowly and surely Barrett pulls the threads of evidence together to finally reach a spectacular climax.

The story is a peculiarly British sort of dystopia; anyone who’s ever been to a council estate in the UK knows that atmosphere of hopelessness and despair, the lethargy and apathy or the residents who see no way out. Eddie Collins is a the antithesis of that despair, drinking to blot out his pain, yet also stalwartly determined to somehow carry on, outraged by the lazy attitudes of police desperate to close cases who don’t care that a Rule 3 means death, sometimes for the innocent.

I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of detailed character description; we never got a clear picture of what Eddie looked like, and his friend Ros who played such an important part was never described physically at all despite being a potential future love interest. (That said, I’d rather no description than an overly sexualised one, so maybe we’ll call that one a draw). I did find it strange that there were no cultural minority characters; everyone has a very English-sounding name and is therefore presumed to be default-white, and considering the ethnic variation found around the UK, and particularly in Yorkshire towns these days, that was an omission glaring enough to notice. It would have been interesting, for example, if Ros was black or from the Indian subcontinent, adding another layer of harassment for her to deal with, and if the artist Christian was also non-white. I find it hard to believe that a party which rose to power with such rhetoric and led by rich white men, wouldn’t have also had a strong position on illegal immigration, for example. Adding racial undertones would have added another layer of depth to the story and made the major characters much more three-dimensional.

The Third Rule is dark and gritty and at times downright depressing, but there’s also that thin thread of hope winding throughout; that yes, there are still decent people in the world who want to do the right thing, and yes, some of them are willing to go to any lengths to defend those who cannot defend themselves. I enjoyed the read despite wishing for more character depth and realistic minority representation, and therefore I’m giving it four stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.

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