Three Hours opens with the horror of terrified children barricading themselves into rooms, a shot headmaster and a masked gunman stalking the corridors of a Somerset school. The pupils are spread across two main sites, one for older children and one for those between 4-11 and the action jumps mostly between these two groups and a couple of individuals within the surrounding areas such as the beach and the woods surrounding the school where an explosive device has also detonated. The terror unfolds as the children try to help their fallen headmaster and barricade themselves away from the gunman while contacting news outlets and communicating with their distraught families via FaceTime and social media. Is the information they are giving out helping or hindering the gunmen? Who are the gunmen – is it one person bearing a grudge or perhaps a group of them, with even more sinister intentions? Suspicions and accusations fall on a couple of young Muslim refugees who are missing from the main school areas. Rumours are rife – even if it’s not them, is it still their fault because someone is disgruntled at the support the school is showing to them?
There are several important topics touched upon in the book; Most obviously the threat of school shootings becoming more prevalent across the world and not just in the US, and the continuing refugee crisis of the last few years. Within this the attitudes of local communities towards those who successfully make it to a new country and the effects it can have on both individuals and a community are examined, and also how people show support until they feel threatened and then turn against those who are most vulnerable.
I love Rosamund Lupton’s writing, she is detailed and emotive, and you can picture the frosty woods, and imagine the fear of the children, waiting, listening, praying that they are not next to see the gunman close up. I thought the refugee brothers’ story was wonderfully wound throughout the novel, heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, and will hopefully make anyone who thinks that these people endure crossing treacherous seas in tiny, unsafe boats just to take advantage of the welfare system, think again. Although attempts are made to delay the reveal of the gunman’s identity, I guessed who it was from the first few times they were mentioned. I didn’t guess the reason though. Ultimately I felt a little detached from this novel for some reason. There were so many characters introduced that it was difficult to keep up with at times and I didn’t really feel any affiliation with them. I also felt it was a bit drawn out and and slow for anything to happen – although that I imagine is reflecting in some way the slowness of time passing for those trapped in the school.
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I give Three Hours a rating of 3.5.