Three Hours is one of those novels that I heard a lot about in the run up to its publication in January. As always, I was a little wary of the hype, but I was intrigued by the premise, and can honestly say that this novel fully deserves all of the buzz surrounding it.
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. 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 desperate 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.
Three Hours tells the story of a school that is being held hostage by masked gunmen. The school covers all age groups from infant to A-level, and while some pupils are evacuated successfully when the first signs of something amiss are spotted, many are not. This novel charts the three hours that the remaining pupils and staff are trapped in the school, unable to escape. Each chapter is time stamped, and I felt that this added to the tension brilliantly. The reader knows exactly how much time has passed, and feels every second tick by along with the characters.
Lupton uses various perspective to tell this tale, including the pupils who are in the school, teachers, parents waiting desperately for news on the outside, as well as the police psychologist who must work out who the gunmen are, what they want, and how to get those trapped inside out to safety. The multiple perspectives work brilliantly here, highlighting the stress of the situation and how it affects people. These are ordinary individuals – children and those just entering adulthood in some cases – and I loved seeing how they found courage that they didn’t know they had in coping with the situation and helping those around them. I loved that it brought people together who wouldn’t normally talk to each other as differences are put aside, and Three Hours serves as a reminder of the things that are important over and above the trivial concerns that we all get caught up in at times.
I felt that there was a contrast shown between those inside the school and whose lives were under threat and the parents stuck on the outside, fearing for their children. While a horrible situation, I thought that the parents on the outside were very quick to jump to conclusions as to who was behind the attack and the reason for it based upon rumour and gossip but little evidence. It highlighted to me how quick the court of public opinion is to judge a situation of which little is known, although I do appreciate that some of their reactions were driven by fear and the inability to do anything to help their children. The perpetrators and the reason for the siege do become apparent as the novel progresses, and I found this to be a topical novel that touches upon issues that we hear about in today’s media.
Three Hours isn’t a novel with action on every page and bullets flying here, there, and everywhere. After the initial flurry of activity as the gunmen establish themselves as being in control, it becomes a waiting game for all of those involved. Far from being dull, I think that this adds to the intensity as you feel drawn into the narrative, waiting for something to happen just as much as the characters are with no idea what it will be. I read Three Hours in a single sitting – it’s the kind of novel that pulls you in and doesn’t let go until you know the outcome.
Three Hours is a superb novel, and one that I can’t recommend enough. It’s available to purchase now in hardback and digital formats.