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Review: Timely and topical ‘The Three’ proves to be a captivating thriller

The Three

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The premise behind Sarah Lotz’ The Three is simple enough: When four planes go down within hours of each other on different continents and of all those passengers only three survive––all kids, each on a different flight––what happens next? The Three, which is available everywhere on Tuesday, May 20, is an ambitious and sweeping effort that looks not just at the disaster that comes to be known as Black Thursday, but the global aftermath, both immediate and lingering.

Cover art for 'The Three'
Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

The Three is largely presented as a book within a book, the bulk of the vast majority of the text is comprised of journalist Elspeth Martins’ book Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy. Like Stephen King’s Carrie and Max Brooks’ World War Z, Lotz uses journal entries, interviews, documents, transcripts and articles to relate the events of Black Thursday, and the even more unsettling aftermath that follows. In crafting a fictional voice’s presentation of information from disparate sources and voices, Lotz proves herself a subtle master of characterization. Even without helpful notes from Elspeth at the heading of the various accounts readers would immediately be able to tell if they were hearing from Paul Craddock (uncle to one of The Three), Lillian Small (grandmother to one of The Three) or one of the many other characters through whom we see the novel’s events unfold.

Naturally, society is rocked by the magnitude of these events, but Lotz narrative really becomes interesting as she paints the ways in which different individuals and societies respond to them. From the rise of End Timers who claim The Three herald the apocalypse, to those groups convinced that they are aliens everyone seems to have an opinion on The Three, and Lotz manages to share them all while weaving them together. Even more impressive than the cohesiveness of the tale is the pacing Lotz manages to establish. She reveals tantalizing hints and details to keep a level of suspense and plot development more akin to a traditional narrative. One moment readers will be taking in what seem to be innocuous details, until amidst those recollections they stumble over a game-changing hint that suggests what’s to come, but leaves the details sparse enough that the compulsion to read “just one more chapter” becomes more of a habit than a one time indulgence of curiosity.

The Three uses some classically horror tropes to craft a tale, that while quite unsettling, is difficult to quantify as one thing or another. So many of the big contenders in genre fiction––science fiction, horror, dystopian, thriller––have a presence here that it seems assured that the novel will enjoy a broad audience, all of whom will find something to love.

The Three is eerie, and though wholly a work of fiction, like all great works in horror and dystopia, doesn’t feel impossible––particularly in the wake of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370––it feels like a timely meditation on the toll that paranoia, fear and desperation can exact on people around the globe.

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Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish date: May 20, 2014