(Blurb for Three Hours from GoodReads) Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds. It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.
It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.
It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.
In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperately for news, to the 16-year-old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.
This was my first impression when reading Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton. What the heck is going on I thought? I guess it’s what the author intended.
The story begins when the Headteacher of Cliff Heights School is hit in the head by the ricochet from a gunshot. He’s dragged into the school library by some of his sixth formers and looked after by Hannah Jacobs. We gradually become aware that a gunman is pacing outside the library door, but they’ve not attempted to get in.
In the meantime, another group of staff and pupils are in the drama theatre rehearsing the school play Macbeth. They are probably in the safest part of the school at the moment as it is fairly impregnable. Everyone is receiving texts from their friends warning them of the events unfolding outside. It slowly becomes clear that four students are missing, Dom Streeter, Jamie Alton, Rafi Bukhari and Tobias Fern. What’s happened to them? Are they safe?
On the outside, parents have been alerted of the incident and all naturally drive to the school to find out more. The police and media are already there.
Oh, and it’s snowing heavily.
The school we learn is situated in the woodlands. The buildings are separated into three areas, Old school, New school and Junior School so the gunmen could be in any of the buildings. All this just adds to the mounting suspense.
Now we jump back an hour to see Rafi Bukhari running towards Junior school. He has heard and seen the remains of a small bomb. Shrapnel is buried into a nearby tree, his first thoughts are to save his younger brother Basi. Both he and Basi are refugees from war-torn Syria, so he has seen the destructive power of IEDs before. He manages to warn the teachers of what he has seen and helps to evacuate the younger children (his brother included) to a nearby beach. He then heads back towards the Old school. We discover that his girlfriend is Hannah (seen earlier in the Library with the Headmaster).
The author gradually unveils layers of this story piece by piece and it slowly becomes clearer to the reader what is happening. Unfortunately, we don’t dwell on anybody for too long, making it difficult to build a bond with any of the characters. We seem to step from one group of students to another and then over to the worried families.
In the second part of the book, there’s a bit more order with the introduction of DI Rose Polstein. From here on, the story becomes a little more police procedural, and we get to see what they know and don’t. We still flit about though from group to group, but there does seem a little more cohesion.
I enjoyed the slow build-up of atmosphere and suspense, I think that Rosamund Lupton was successful in this endeavour. I also loved the fact that there were a few plot twists later on in the story which took me by surprise. I’m glad I read the novel through to the end because at one point I had seriously considered not finishing it, the subject matter can be a tough one.
As I’ve mentioned before, it took me a while to get into the story as it began chaotically, to begin with. Moving from group to group throughout the story made it difficult to empathise with any of the characters really. There also didn’t seem to be a hero figure that we could latch onto, certainly early on.
It’s a difficult balancing act. Do you have a clear simple structured story that the reader can easily follow, building characters? Or do you take the reader on a different journey full of intricate layers? I think Rosamund Lupton has got the balance just about right here.
A powerful story with hints of Dunblane.