The Three

Posted: June 14, 2015 in Book reviews

By Sarah Lotz

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On a day that will go down in history as Black Thursday four passenger planes crash across the globe, there are four survivors. Three of these are children, but the fourth is an American woman named Pamela May Donald, a housewife from the American south on her way to visit her daughter in Japan. Pamela dies soon after the crash, but not before she leaves a cryptic voice message that her local pastor interprets as a message about the end of times.

Told in a series of documentary extracts that form a book written by a woman named Elspeth, the novel tracks what happens after Black Thursday, as the mystery of why four planes crash on the same day is quickly set aside for a deeper mystery about why those three children survived, and whether they’re still the children they were or have been replaced by something else. Is it a government conspiracy, is it aliens, are they ghosts or are they, as Pamela May’s pastor believes, horsemen of the apocalypse sent to usher in the end of the world?

I should warn you in advance that this review may be a little spoilery, mainly because it’s difficult to review without addressing the elephant in the room, so if you’ve bought this book and haven’t started reading it yet and you don’t want to be spoiled you might want to stop here! 🙂

Ok then, here we go!

I’m self-aware enough to know that a lot of books are optioned on the basis of the premise, obviously the author needs to be able to competently write it, but if the pitch is good enough this can make the difference between “It’s a nice idea but…” and “Here’s a big cheque”.

The premise behind Three is a doozy, and it’s fair to say the blurb on the back hooked me in very quickly.

But…

Having a great premise is one thing, you have to follow through on it. I’ve always been a fan of Dean Koontz and that man is a master of the great premise, now even though I like his work I’ll be the first to admit that often his resolutions don’t live up to the premise, but this is a common problem not limited to Koontz (Take Lost or any similar grand mystery). Of course on occasion Koontz has delivered an ending that’s actually better than the premise (the fairly dull until the end ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’ for example), but this is the exception that proves the rule.

Give Koontz his due however, he will give you an ending. Three meanwhile meanders around for four hundred old pages before limping to a vague “conclusion” that leaves it up to the reader to decide what actually happened.

Ambiguity is fine, but you have to give the reader more than Lotz does here.

Part of the problem is the documentary style narrative, because most of it is after the fact there is a fair amount of foreshadowing about what’s going to happen, and as you know gentle reader, this is something that can irritate me. It also prevents some of the characters from really coming alive, especially when we’re presented with the chat logs of two Japanese characters.

Lotz is obviously going for a creepy vibe about the surviving children, but on the whole it never really comes off because they never seem that dangerous. Yes they’re a little odd but the story never quite feels unsettling enough, certainly there’s nothing about the three survivors to quite justify the reaction against them, especially by American evangelical Christians, and it’s these end timers who Lotz almost seemed more interested in, portraying an America leaning so far to the right it’s going to fall off a cliff which again doesn’t quite seem to hang true. Sure the surviving Japanese boy insisting on only talking through a robotic facsimile, and the American child who seems to be behind his Grandfather’s partial recovery from Alzheimer’s are odd, but they hardly justify the hysteria they seem to generate.

It’s billed as a horror novel but it really isn’t, in fact it’s hard to pigeonhole, a conspiracy thriller would seem a safer bet, though it isn’t that thrilling. Perhaps the most telling portion of the book is an epilogue that follows Elspeth as she follows up her book for more about the story. She finds some new facts that completely contradict what we were told earlier, and then has a mysterious, but utterly disappointing, conversation with one of the three. It feels like it was tacked on because the book was too ambiguous, the trouble is it doesn’t actually clear the water very much.

It’s actually an enjoyable read up to a point, Lotz keeps you interested, it’s just that the further into the book you get the more you realise you might end up disappointed, and I certainly did. Read it by all means, just prepare to be underwhelmed.

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Comments
  1. Hmm, not one for me, I guess! I can’t bear it when a book fizzles at the end.

    • starkers70 says:

      It fizzles out earlier, to quote Twist in spaced “I can really see what she was trying to do” and I think it would have been really easy to completely overdo things, but instead she goes the other way and it ends up being undercooked, but that is just my view, the book has a lot of 5* reviews (but a lot of average reviews as well as far as I can see)

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