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Thriller set in Somerset

8th January 2020

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton, thriller set in Somerset.

Thriller set in Somerset

Three Hours, the latest novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author Rosamund Lupton, looks set to scoop up all the awards – it’s pacy, powerful and terrifying – a brilliant thriller – but so much more besides.

The novel takes the reader to a sprawling middle-class school set in forested grounds in rural Somerset.  The action covers three hours in the life of the staff, pupils and parents while a blizzard rages outside and the school is under siege.  The headmaster is the first target, wounded on the first page and dragged into the library out of the way of the gunman by one of the pupils.  A small group of sixth formers huddle in the library, trying to save the life of their headmaster and barricading the door with library books.  More pupils are isolated in the drama studio, supposedly the safest place in the school.  They are gathered there to rehearse the school play, Macbeth, and continue with their rehearsal, despite the seige.  A further class of very young children are isolated deep in the forest in their pottery classroom.  All of the pupils and teachers are trying desperately to understand what is going on outside and to keep in touch with their loved ones.  This is undoubtedly a well-executed thriller with an intriguing storyline and it keeps the reader anxiously turning pages, uncomfortably aware of all the disparate groups.

But Three Hours is much more than just a good thriller.  For a start, the setting is clever.  There is something of the fairytale about the snow-filled forest and the sense of danger lurking that creates an atmosphere of dread and anxiety.  The novel is beautifully written, with almost poetic descriptions and with not a word wasted and I loved the way Lupton cleverly interwove the Macbeth story into this modern tale.

This intriguing story is told from several different perspectives, inviting the reader to understand these horrific events in different ways – Mr. Marr, the kind and caring headmaster, whose concern is the safety of his pupils; two Syrian refugees, pupils at the school, caught up in the seige and forced to relive some of the trauma they have experienced during their flight from Syria; the parents, desperately awaiting news of their children; and the police psychologist, whose job it is to identify the gunman and attempt to establish his motivation.

Like all the best of novels, Three Hours offers  fascinating insights – in this case into some of the most disturbing elements of our world today – it is difficult not to think of Columbine.  Lupton has clearly done her research, for the details of the counter-terrorism investigation are fascinating and disturbing  in equal measure, for what the reader is left with is the feeling that, despite the best of measures, as this school clearly had in place, our children are vulnerable. It was also utterly intriguing to begin to think about how the process of radicalisation can happen and how the parents might be totally unaware.  If nothing else, the experience of reading Three Hours will probably make most parents pay more attention to their children’s activities online.

But, lest you think this is all doom and gloom, fear not.  This novel, despite the extreme anxiety it provokes, ultimately gives you hope and faith in today’s young people, whose courage and faith provide redemption.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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