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“The Three” – Sarah Lotz’s clever thriller is creepy as hell.

the threeA book doesn’t need monsters or murderers to be hair-raising. Stephen King does this masterfully in a number of his horrors (think Misery, Carrie, Insomnia), and South African author, Sarah Lotz, does the same in her book, The Three (a kind of thriller/horror).

12 January 2012, Thursday. Four passenger planes go down at the same time on four different continents (Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa), killing hundreds of people. There are three survivors from three of the crashes: all young children. A fourth, an adult woman, lives just long enough to leave a cryptic voice message that changes the world. The three children (labelled by the media as “The Three”) all appear to have come off unscathed, without as much as a scratch. Some people call them miracles; others see them as threats. But despite the appearance that the children were unhurt, they are not the same as they were before.

The Three is a book about a book, and consists mostly of the (fictional) ‘true story’, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy. Inside the phenomenon of The Three by journalist, Elspeth Martins. Black Thursday references many sources to tell the story. Some chapters are extracts from various articles and other books written about the crashes. Some chapters are stories, interviews and recordings of the families of the victims and survivors.

Doomsday-type cults spring up around the surviving children: some religious fanatics view them as three of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, a sign of the end times, the coming of The Rapture. Others think the children must have miraculous healing powers, and stalk them, hoping for salvation. Much of this is prompted by the short, eerie voice recording left by American, Pamela May McDonald, just before she died in the Asia crash:

“They’re here. I’m… don’t let Snookie eat chocolate, it’s poison for dogs, she’ll beg you, the boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many… They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Bye Joanie I love the bag bye Joanie, Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to –”

Who are ‘they’? What’s wrong with the boy who survived the Asia crash? Why do people need to be warned about him? As Black Thursday progresses, it becomes clear that the children were not left unchanged by the crashes. Family members report strange behaviour, and bizarre personality changes. The children also appear to have knowledge of events and happenings they couldn’t or shouldn’t possibly know.

The Three is the kind of book that doesn’t provide too many explanations or reasons for what is happening, but rather hints at it, letting the reader fill in the blanks. That’s what gives you the shudders. After all, the imagination is more powerful than words.

This story is a frightening one that holds you in its clutches, reverberating long after the last page has been turned. Even the master of horror, Stephen King himself, has described it as “hard to put down and vastly entertaining”.

Notable passage: Extract from a recording of Paul Cradock’s unfinished memoir, Guarding Jess: My Life With One of The Three.

“Christ, I’m soaked through with sweat. Sopping. It’s fading now, but this is what I remember.

I woke up suddenly, and I could feel there was someone sitting on the end of the bed – the mattress was sagging slightly as if there was a weight on it. I sat up, felt this huge wash of dread. I guess I knew instinctively that whoever is was was too heavy to be Jess.

I think I said something like, ‘Who’s there?’

My eyes adjusted to the dark and then I saw a shape at the end of the bed.

I froze. I’ve never felt fear like it. It… fuck, think, Paul. Jesus. It felt like… like a load of cement has been injected into my veins. I stared at if for ages. It was sitting slumped, motionless, looking down at its hands.

And then it spoke: ‘What have you done, Paul? How could you let that thing in here?’”

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Three is distributed in South Africa by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

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