THE PLOT: Three hours by Rosamund Lupton is a literary thriller about a school shooting in Somerset. Matthew Marr is headmaster at a progressive, liberal school where children are free to express whatever gender they want, teachers are openly gay and they have special bursaries for refugees. But as the novel opens, Mr Marr is shot in the head. What ensues next is three hours of terror as students barricade themselves in different areas of the building and outbuildings, which are spread across vast woods. While parents frantically gather, a police psychiatrist tries to uncover the identity of the killer. But the most important question is not who is doing this, but why…
RATING: This book literally had me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails. I could not stop reading because it was so addictive. The plotting, pacing and structure make it compelling, but there are also loveable characters who you immediately warm to. However, I’m not giving this book the full five stars. I don’t know why, but there’s something missing which makes me give it four and a half. It’s still wonderful and one I’ll remember for a long time, but it just won’t be in my very-best tip-top books of the year.
GOOD BITS: This book is so well structured. Short paragraphs switch between different characters based on the location where they’re hiding in the school. Each chapter is defined by a timestamp as the three hours count down, which leaves the reader racing through, trying to put the pieces together. Despite a short time with each character, you really care about them and their fate. You’re desperate to know who is shooting the school and, more importantly, why. Even though I guessed the identity of the shooters quite early on, there were plenty more twists to keep me engaged. There’s even a twist right at the end, which I kind of saw coming but managed to still surprise me in the execution.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I’m really worried about spoilers so this may sound vague: the story became a bit too big. There is a point where it seems to move beyond the bounds of realism and the theme is a bit too obvious. There’s an important political statement in this novel but I always feel these messages are best delivered subtly and with enough balance to ensure both sides of the argument are represented. By the end of the novel, I felt like it was a bit “black” versus “white”, “good” versus “evil”, and we lost the shades of grey which make psychological thrillers so pervasive.
OVERALL: I’m so scared about spoilers in this review because you simply have to read this book. I’d recommend it to fans of ‘The Beauty of Your Face’ by Sahar Mustafah or ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ by Christy Lefteri. But I’d also recommend it to read on a long journey, where you can absorb a big chunk of the novel in one sitting and really sink into it. If you want an all-in “can’t put it down” thriller, then I urge you to buy it immediately.