David Benjamin's Three's a Crowd combines elements of a Paris tour book, a murder mystery, and a comic poke in the ribs at marriage, sex, middle age -- and the tech industry. It blends descriptions of long, luscious meals in the best brasseries with a few Las Vegas lap dances, several plot twists, and a generous sprinkling of salty humor.
Full disclosure: Benji's wife, Junko Yoshida, is a colleague of mine here at EE Times where we both write for and about engineers. In fact, I stood with Benji once or twice in looong lines at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas where this story begins. But unlike the main characters -- Rudy, Bud, and Chip -- we did not plot to kill our wives while cavorting around the sleazier side of the city of casinos.
At first I read the book for its little embedded nuggets of irreverent, askance takes on the tech industry that Junko and I cover. I had to laugh out loud (LOL) at passages like one where a skeptical spouse "suspected that if you were to somehow kill off the vast infestation of bullshit artists, the entire consumer electronics industry would consist of about 40 electrical engineers in plaid shirts with Coke-bottle eyeglasses."
Benji has long been the unofficial bard of EE Times, weighing in with joke-barbed columns on holidays or from events where he accompanied Junko. Our very serious news-and-analysis publication has soaked up as much of Benji's urbane humor as we could get.
I admit it took me awhile to get over the revulsion I felt at the moral bankruptcy of the main characters -- and how much I related to them. After the first third of this novella, I began to feel as if I were stuck in a "Waiting for Godot" with two miserable creatures doomed to each other's repugnant company.
Many early scenes are served up with a lavish meal at this upscale Paris landmark.
Somewhere about halfway through, the wives entered the story, and I got hooked by the plot twists in this book aptly described as a "noir comedy." I started trying to guess where the story was leading, but the author was always gamely a step-and-a-half ahead of me.
In the second half, the chapters breezed by, typically with little twists at the end of each chapter. Benji's approach to telling the story in a set of short flash-backs and flash-forwards added to the intrigue. As I neared the end I found myself looking ahead just to see where the next few chapters were set so I could get a clue where the story was going.
Several key scenes are masterfully handled, including one where the three wives pack into a tiny Parisian water closet to bond, pisser, and plot. The ending managed to pack a surprise, a fireworks-like finale of wisecracks, and -- like two or three other scenes -- a dash of genuine pathos.
I have to confess I have not read Benji's other works -- a send-up of sumo wrestling and a comic memoir. Most of the time I'm too busy writing some very serious tech news analysis or standing in some looong Las Vegas conference line. But now that I've been infected with a full case of Benji's wry look at the human comedy, I may go back to expose myself to more.
A sampler of EE Times columns by David Benjamin: