In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Children and teachers barricade themselves into classrooms, the library, the theatre. The headmaster lies wounded in the library, unable to help his trapped students and staff. Outside, a police psychiatrist must identify the gunmen, while parents gather desperate for news. In three intense hours, all must find the courage to stand up to evil and save the people they love.
I bought this book (from my favourite Indie bookshop ‘The Rabbit Hole‘ in Brigg, North Lincolnshire) after several book bloggers I trust (most notably the lovely and wonderfully named Emma from emmazbookblog.wordpress.com) raved about it.
It’s possibly the best book I’ve read this year in terms of emotional impact and for having the sheer ability to keep me turning the pages, because if I’m perfectly honest, if life had allowed I would have sat entranced and gulped it up in one sitting.
Three Hours tells the story of a school under siege, and is told from various points of view; a worried parent, the injured headteacher, his deputy, teachers and students.
The subject is tough, particularly because it’s not even beyond the realms of possibility. I’m not sure whether it has always been there and is now being amplified by the platform of social media, but I’m constantly astonished at how much hate there is in the world, often lay hidden behind very thin veneers. I’m not ashamed to say that I find it frightening. And as a mother of two, this book cut very close and I immediately put myself in the shoes of the parents, but as someone who has worked in a school, I could well imagine being in the role of an adult within the school wanting to protect students, even when frightened yourself.
Despite a fairly large cast of characters and changing points of view, it’s a testament to the author and her storytelling skills that I never felt lost. Everything felt necessary and I can’t remember at any point during reading having my mind go off on a tangent. I was completely focused on this book, the characters and everything they were going through….although I did have to suspend belief a little as to how many teenagers had phones low on battery so early in the day!
It tugged on my heartstrings and played with my fears, particularly towards the climax. Already suspenseful, the tension was further heightened as the author merged fiction with reality. Suddenly the distance was removed and it all felt startlingly close. I gasped as I read, my heart racing and fearful for these characters I had come to care for, particularly the story of Rafi and Basi, both in the present and the past as their story as refugees is revealed to the reader. Told in flashbacks, just snippets of their plight, and the lasting effects it has had on them, was enough to provoke an awful lot of thought, all without taking focus from the events of the novel.
The characters in jeopardy are the real heart of the novel. Their resilience is remarkable, and yet believable. It is they that transform this novel from one of fear, to one of hope. They made me care for them, cry for them, shout at them in frustration (Rafi and Basi – I’m looking at you!) and cheer for them.
An absolutely wonderful read. Timely and important in theme, whilst being brilliantly tense, unputdownable and filled with courage and ultimately hope. This will, without doubt be featuring very highly on my Top Reads of 2020 list.