Three Hours transports you to a sprawling, cosseted private school on the Somerset coast which is under siege by masked gunmen. But this is no ordinary thriller. The writer hops into the heads of the many different characters – allowing us to navigate the wonderful relationship between Syrian refugee brothers Rafi and Basi; brave school girl Hannah; heartfelt headmaster Mr Marr; Beth, one of the parents awaiting news of her son who is still inside the school, and many others. Multiple points of view might have diluted the depth of the story, but Lupton mines each of her characters’ thoughts so deeply that we feel what they’re feeling. The writing is first-class with sentences that are almost poetic in their beauty. The pupils that are stuck inside the theatre – the most impenetrable part of the school, and therefore the safest – carry on performing their production of Macbeth, so that Shakespeare’s lines about power and psychopathy haunt the narrative.
The counter-terrorism investigation on the outside gathers force – Lupton’s research must have been meticulous. Indeed this fiction is so firmly rooted in reality that it is supremely disturbing. I find it interesting that Lupton has set her story in a liberal, fee-paying school with a massive budget – a school where people expect their children to be safe, yet the unthinkable still happens. Because it really can happen anywhere, to anyone – there will always be chinks that let the darkness in. Lupton explores just what it would take to be radicalised: the relentless racist messages thrown out by the press – the story is even intercut with Tweets from Trump and a vile diatribe by a former newspaper columnist – brainwashing by extreme groups and much more. While reading this book you will undoubtedly want to have a closer look at your child’s iPad and phone to see just what they have been looking at lately.
Three Hours is about hate crime, but what rings out from its pages – what is likely to stay with you long after you’ve read that magnificent last line – is love. I wanted to read Three Hours slowly to savour every beautiful word, yet it is so compelling that I couldn’t put it down. This one is destined for the best-sellers list, I reckon, and rightly so. It is phenomenal.
Three Hours is published by Viking on 17th October 2019.
Review by Fiona Mitchell, author of The Swap, published on 18th April 2019 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Holding picture by Sensei Minimal on Unsplash