The media’s power to create panic, suspicion and fear is a well that’s often returned to by authors telling stories of killer viruses, mind control and extraterrestrial plots.
One of the things that makes Sarah Lotz’s The Three so chilling is that the driving force behind the novel’s conspiracy theories is simply human nature. Fear and greed meet curiosity and madness with explosive consequences.
Opening with a horrifying account of a plane-crash from the perspective of one of the passengers, The Three then broadens its scope as a “non-fiction” book called ‘Black Thursday: From Crash To Conspiracy.’
We learn that four planes went down on that day in different corners of the globe, and a single survivor was found in the wreckage of three of them. Three young children, practically unharmed, survived the nightmare and became famous overnight.
However, it’s not long before the conspiracy theories begin. How on earth did these children survive? Was it a freak accident, an alien intervention, or a sign of the End Times? Are these kids in fact three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and, if so, where is the final child?
This is an ambitious novel, spanning multiple first-person perspectives, forms and continents. From Japanese chatrooms to wealthy elderly New Yorkers, from the panicked delirium of a London luvvie to the disaffected confessions of a Southern prostitute, Lotz shows a tremendously impressive ability to deliver different voices, each as convincing as each other.
We see how the controversy surrounding each of the children affects the people who are attempting to care for them, and how that controversy is manufactured. What’s more horrifying; the idea that these kids might not be of this world, or that there are people out there who want to gain power and money by convincing others that this is the case?
The Three combines genres as well as perspectives. As the alcoholic Paul begins to suspect that his niece Jess might not be the same girl he knew, Lotz begins to incorporate a bit of John Wyndham (and a dash of Roman Polanski). Meanwhile, the evangelical Christians responsible for creating the idea that the Three are a sign of the apocalypse are written with a sharp satirical edge that only serves to emphasise how scarily plausible their actions are.
Probably the closest point of comparison is Stephen King, with radical preacher Pastor Len’s down-home friendliness masking a deeply un-Christian willingness to do whatever it takes to reach his goal.
By making The Three a collection of witness testimonies, Lotz is able to stretch out the tension for as long as possible, teasing possible answers with unreliable narrators who either have their own agendas or are simply losing their mind. This makes for a compelling and haunting mystery as future tragedy is hinted at. The biggest problem with the novel is that some of these stories don’t have enough room to develop, with the sections set in South Africa feeling frustratingly light.
However, Lotz keeps a firm grip on the multiple threads of her narrative and takes the reader to some chilling, unexpected places. The Three is a gripping, deeply unsettling thriller that have you reading deep into the night and will stay with you long after the final page.