I finished reading The Three the same day as the horrendous air-crash in Germany, and seeing the events unfold on TV. Because of the intensity of Sarah Lotz’s horror thriller I had emotional connection to the unfolding news I would never have expected. The Three is as much an exploration of effects of a life changing event as it is a creepy, twisting mystery.
The first thing you notice is the structure. Lotz has put a fictionalised real-life non-fiction book, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy, inside her novel with only two framing chapters to let you know it’s a fiction.
It starts with four plane crashes with three of those flights having a sole surviving child collectively called The Three by the media. The opening ‘framing’ chapter provides us with a warning that fuels the events rest of novel. Then we are introduced to the ‘author’ before starting on the mix of interviews, transcripts and extracts which make up the rest of the book.
What’s immediately clear is that Lotz has a talent for not only characterisation but voice. Each segment has its own feel and style. There is a tangible change in tone as we swap back and fore between the different ‘evidence’ which make up The Three.
Lotz weaves four main narratives. Three following the journey of those closet to the surviving children as their families find out that they are not quite the same about the children they were before. They act out of character. The fourth deals with a message recorded by Pamela May Donald and the person who hears it.
That’s a thread that’s better left to be experienced though it does involve the theme of religion and how power and religion aren’t always too far away from each other. I’m mentioning it as this thread has an implication which in the end Lotz underplays.
Maybe knowing there was a sequel, especially being aware of where it is to be set, subtly changed the way I read The Three. Not in a big way. I think I spotted the occasional reference to events in the sequel and I paused to ponder where the next book might go.
But I wonder if this had been a one-off book if Lotz would have risked making some elements bigger and bolder rather than leaving the lingering feeling she was holding something back?
This one ends cleverly so I really need to know how Sarah Lotz is going to tackle the next one, especially if it’s have the same format, and why is it called Day Four?
Title: In The Woods
Author: Tana French
Published: 14 November 07
You can never escape your past or so they say. And Tana French plays with this idea in her debut novel, In The Woods. Rob Ryan retells the investigation into death of a small girl found in the same woods where he, but not his two friends, had a lucky escape twenty years ago.
French hasn’t created a conventional detective novel. Ryan’s past comes back to haunt him during this investigation. She pitches it right. Ryan unravels as the case gets tougher. And as you read you wonder if he can solve it before he unravels too far.
It’s a very emotional read. French keeps you reading by playing with you. She builds the connections between the main characters and sparks them off each other. It’s a small world after all.
The strengths of this novel is how well French sets everything up. As I was reading I thought I had a good idea of who did it, if not why, and I was wrong. French, through Ryan’s eyes, gives a lot of leads and clues but these are muddied by Ryan own biases and obsessions. Another strength is how she explores the effect the investigation has on the relationship with his partner DI Cassie.
French foreshadows a lot of the major events, sometimes a little too heavily, and this gives a drive to find out the truth. And it is truthful and a bit brutal in its honesty. It’s an interesting balancing act between keeping plot moving in terms of finding the killer and showing us the emotional tensions surrounding it.
In The Woods keeps you reading as Ryan recounts and explores this investigation from beginning to end. French has created a well-crafted story with a believable, if highly fictional set events, told with strong compelling voice. A strong performing and haunting debut. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.
Dark Hollow by John Connolly
Hodder Published 2000
Charlie Parker isn’t a lucky man. A simple job of getting child maintenance for a client turns into a hunt for a killer that’s linked to an old lady’s fear of a man called Caleb Kyle and pile of money that a lot of people are eager to get there hands on. It’s a mess that Charlie can’t avoid stepping in.
Connolly puts you in the action from the very first page as he sets up the events that snowball throughout Dark Hollow. The plotting is tighter than a washing line on a windy day. Just when you think you know what is going on the action snaps in another direction.
Added to that, Connolly is a well read and intelligent writer who doesn’t shy away from the details and doesn’t dumb down for the reader. This can make for a challenging read, not because it’s complicated in anyway, it’s more the depths of darkness he descends as he explores the more disturbing parts of human nature.
Parker’s world isn’t one you’d see on your average cop show on TV. It’s one where you kill or be killed and that’s another thing that is different about Connolly’s detective. He isn’t pure and greater than the criminals. He’s only just about on the right moral side.
This first person-tale is well worth reading. I’d suggest reading Every Dead Thing first as it explains why Parker is so haunted by the dead and what fuels his actions.