The Three by Sarah Lotz

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“She holds the phone to her mouth and starts speaking.”

If you regularly dredge the depths of the internet searching for just the right sort of uncanny, you’ve probably stumbled upon or heard of Eric Heisserer’s quite genius The Dionaea House; a viral internet-told story that is brilliant not only for its disturbingly realistic seeming tale, but also its epistolary delivery – it is told through emails, blog posts and other correspondence by a set of characters linked in some way or another to the mysterious Dionaea House. Its setup is elaborate and definitely worth checking out. Now, not to digress too wildly from the title I should be reviewing: as soon as I finished the first chapter of South African author Sarah Lotz’s The Three, I knew I would devour the rest of the book and most likely love it – it has the same intricate, layered construct as that viral online story I enjoyed so much. And that same brand of subtle creep.

A fair bit of warning: if you require your book plots to be neatly stitched together with no loose ends, this book will most likely have you tearing your hair out in pure frustration. Though there is a bit of explanation for the story’s events towards the end, it’s still left up to the reader to decide whether what they’ve been told is true. Also, even though it is described as “horror”, I would rather categorise it as a creepy thriller. It delivers its scares in more of a chewing your fingernails to the quick, way, than genuine bolting for the door terror.

Its concept is compelling and imaginative. On what soon becomes known as Black Thursday, four passenger planes crash within hours of each other, on four different continents. There are only four known survivors – on American soil, a little boy named Bobby, in Europe a young girl by the name of Jessica, and in Japan, an American named Pamela May Donald (who dies shortly after the crash) and a Japanese boy, Hiro. The fourth plane plummets to its doom in the township Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, and in the resulting chaos, no one immediately suspects any survivors.  Not only are investigators and the general public flabbergasted by the fact that three children survived the horrific crashes, but when it is revealed that Pamela left a chilling cell phone recording in her final minutes hinting at the Japanese boy as a sinister, supernatural entity, the press and conspiracy theorists have a field day.

What happens after is told in a book-within-a-book style through a compilation of interviews with the children’s (dubbed by the international media as The Three) guardians, friends of the families, those who suspect alien involvement and religious fanatics who believe The Three to be harbingers of the Apocalypse. The characters, even the ones who only make an appearance once, are convincing and excellently written. Their stories are delivered through transcripts of Skype sessions, text messages, voice recordings and emails, and the effect is unnervingly real. You can just sense the paranoia seeping into this cast of characters’ everyday lives, as they’re not only hounded by the press and investigators seeking answers but especially once they begin suspecting that the zealots and theorists might be onto something. And dispersed between hints at the paranormal, lie the much more menacing accounts of those in power seeking to exploit the global fear caused by the crashes. To say any more would be to spoil a fantastically entertaining plot.

While there are not many jump-your-seat terrifying moments in this book, Lotz delivers some eerily ambiguous scenes with the subtlest of hands. If you’re looking for an addictive read, with a perfect blend of thrills and chills, this comes highly recommended.

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