Four passenger jets crash in different locations around the world on the same day, dubbed ‘Black Thursday’, in 2012. From three of the crashes there are survivors – all children – who become known as ‘The Three’. Are they aliens disguised as children, horsemen of the apocalypse, just very lucky or something else?
In The Three Sarah Lotz uses an oral-history format – a collection of supposed media extracts, chatroom conversations, background notes of an author, dictaphone recordings and Skype call transcripts – to delve into the mystery around the simultaneous crashes and the miraculous survivors.
Characterisation (of a struggling tv actor with a drink problem, a prostitute who services an tv evangelist, a Texan housewife, a Japanese computer nerd etc.) comes from their accounts of what happened after Black Thursday – through their documented actions, attitudes and tone of voice. A jigsaw of a story is gradually pieced together.
It is an interesting format and one that I find seldom works well as it is hard to build suspense and cover action when everything is being reported as already having happened. It does however let the author play with unreliable witnesses and the slow revelation of detail. Drip feeding tidbits, maintaining ambiguity and jumping around all the people associated with The Three keeps you wanting to turn the next page.
What Lotz also does well is to portray the different cultures of middle England, Japan, rural Texas and Cape Town and it reminded somewhat in this respect of the Netfix show Sense8. She also knows how to write in a number of different styles when she is aping newspapers, the ghostwritten kiss-and-tell autobiography and chatroom slang.
Like Stephen King who provided a glowing (shining?) quote on the back cover can sometimes do, Lotz provides a rather flat ending to the book. The ambiguity and tension that pervades the book until the final twenty or so pages is wiped away along with the multi-voice style. It is almost as if Lotz was already planning a sequel and wanted to set her stall out early. There were four planes down, but only three survivors. There is an unsuccessful search for the fourth survivor but the door is left open for the next book Day Four.
Having bought the book on the basis of the cover, the back cover blurb and it’s half-price tag I was pleasantly surprised. Parts of the book are really very creepy and I loved the suspense that was built up and the seldom used method of delivery of the story. I will probably buy Day Four when it comes out in a cheap paperback version.