The Three is a massively frustrating read. Frustrating because the writer clearly knows about creating well fleshed out and interesting characters, knows how to turn in a gripping scene and play with intriguing concepts and world-building. But what happens here is that “World War Z” style multi-point narrative (different characters tell different angles of the story through as diverse a range of short pieces as interviews with journalists and writers; police, medical and other official reports; Amazon reviews; tweets and internet threads, and so on. This kaleidoscope story-telling fatally slows and confuses an already slow burn tale. It’s not helped by some strong and disturbing final scenes that are followed by long expository scenes and conversations that dwindle to an unsatisfactory, vague and I’ll use that word again, frustrating resolution and pay off for the considerable investment the reader will have had to make to keep up with this tale.
On a day that comes to be known as “Black Thursday” 4 airliner planes crash almost simultaneously in Japan, the US, Africa and Canada. There are three verified human child survivors (and a rumoured fourth) of whom it can be said that there is “something not quite right” other than the fact that their survival is miraculous. There is a recorded phone message from a survivor Pam that appears to be a warning that sets of a terrible catalyst of events that could eventually lead to global conflict and catastrophe. Because the warning is interpreted by the End-time Christian movement to mean a harbinger of Armageddon, and the children are interpreted as the Four Horsemen of Revelations. Said End-timers set about doing everything they can to make their Armageddon a self fulfilling prophecy. In the meantime the children are placed with family. The main meat of the book is the family members’ relation of events to interviewers etc. after the events have played out, as they puzzle over the changed nature of the children and strange and seeming miraculous events. Sometimes the children seem benign and healing, other times sinister and detached. This after the fact narration allow for teasing and ominous glimpses of how things will play out. We know disaster is on its way.
So what works? Vivid and interesting characters and set pieces, including the opening chapter detailing Pam’s experience of a plane crash, the descent of a Bible belt preacher into Waco style paranoia and madness, and recovering alcoholic and actor Paul Craddock being tormented to insanity by his sinister changeling of a niece Jess. But the there is a lot of teeth grindingly tedious padding and exposition. A recurring internet thread between Japanese internet geeks is interminable. A lot of the final exposition reminds me of the final segments of various mini -series franchises that don’t quite know how to resolve story arcs because of too many writers being involved, and so leave things stupidly open and unresolved leading to a poor return on the viewers investment, of babbly exposition that mixes science and the supernatural and just doesn’t make sense.
There is no real closure or resolution to the novel, Are the children possessed by aliens? Demons? Ghosts of the dead? Just as we feel we are getting to a resolution someone will pop up with another “Ah but are they” kind of curve-ball. One of the characters screams at another in a final scene to stop talking in riddles and give a straight answer. We know how they feel.
The narration of the audio-book by Andrew WIncott and Melanie McHugh is stand-out, though. They do a superb job of acting out a wide range of roles in this fractured narrative.