Black Thursday is a day that history will remember with dread. Simultaneously, on different continents, four commuter planes crashed to earth, their passengers and crew all dead except for three children, one from each of three of the planes, who walked unharmed from the devastation. One other passenger was to survive for a brief time, Pamela May Donald, who left a message on her home answer machine which was to provide less of a clue as to what may have happened, than a warning of what the world may be about to face:
‘They’re here… The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many… They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Bye Joanie I love the bag bye Joanie, Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to…’
As relatives come forward to claim the three children, a media frenzy takes hold of the world, fuelled by the emerging strangeness of the children and by the fervour of the evangelical cult, the Pamelists, which, under the instruction of Pastor Len, has no doubt at all that The Three herald the Apocalypse and that the Rapture is nigh. Panic spreads, especially when rumours emerge of a possible fourth child who walked unharmed from the crash site in Africa.
The Three presents these phenomenal events through the device of investigative journalist Elspeth Martin’s Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy. It comprises a series of journal extracts, emails, expert reports and interviews with those most closely related to the surviving children as well as with the others – the people with their own ideas and conspiracy theories. As Martin becomes closer to her witnesses, they increasingly confide in her, the present and hindsight mix, dread deepens, the carers of the children become more isolated, the children themselves are cut off, unable to relate normally, all the time showing in ever more disturbing ways that they might not be the same as they once were. But is this all in the mind? A case of world hysteria? Or is there really something very frightening indeed going on amid all the madness?
Our novelist, Sarah Lotz, is further removed. It is through Lotz’s perspective that the book opens, with the truly harrowing and terrifying account of Pamela’s plane crash. I’m not going to lie – I had a bad nightmare about this when I flew shortly afterwards. But apart from scaring the life out of me, this opening grabbed my attention in an unusually powerful way and I was hooked instantly.
Because the novel comprises a series of extracts or interviews, the perspective changes constantly, moving between survivors and conspirators, our sympathies altering appropriately. Key characters are returned to repeatedly as events (or sanity) degenerate. Four characters stood out for me: Paul Craddock and Lillian Small – guardians of two of the Three – and Chiyoko and Ryu – Japanese teenagers who come into contact with the third of the Three but who have created their own emotive world of spirits and ghosts and communicate online in a medium that they make less digital than ethereal.
The Three is a stunning novel, truly astonishing in its complexity, vision and power, combining thriller and horror with the utmost success. Sarah Lotz pulls the many strands together into an intricate beautiful web that both horrifies and sparkles. It is full of life, just as it resonates with death, and there is humour to go with the dread. There is a great mystery here but it was the telling of that mystery that I loved even more than its revelation. I loved every page, from its dark enigmatic cover to its final tense message.