Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

It can’t happen here. Or can it? That’s a question Rosamund Lupton asks with her novel about a siege at a progressive school in rural England. When out in public with my copy of the book, I was asked a few times what I was reading. I would explain that it was about a school shooting in Somerset, and the reply was always “In the UK?!” Guns are difficult to come by in this country thanks to firearms legislation that was passed following a couple of high-profile massacres in the 1980s and 90s. So, to an extent, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief about the perpetrators getting access to automatic weapons and bombs. And you should, because the story that unfolds is suspenseful and timely.

Cliff Heights School is in the midst of a surprise November blizzard. It’s also under attack. At 9:16 the headmaster, Matthew Marr, is shot twice. Students bundle him into the library, barricade the doors and tend to his head and foot injuries as best they can. He recognized the shooter, but the damage to his brain means he’s incapable of telling anyone who it was.

At 8:15 Rafi Bukhari, a Syrian refugee pupil, had seen an IED explode on the school grounds and alerted Marr, who promptly evacuated the junior school. But the institution is based across several buildings, with some students in the theatre for a dress rehearsal, more in the pottery hut for art class – and now a few trapped in the library.

Lupton toggles between these different locations, focusing on a handful of staff and students and the relationships between them. Hannah, who’s doing her best to help Mr. Marr, is Rafi’s girlfriend. Rafi is concerned for his little brother, Basi, who’s still traumatized after their escape from Syria. Mr. Marr sponsored the boys’ move to England. Could it be that anti-Muslim sentiment has made the Bukhari boys – and thus the school they attend – a target?

We also spend time behind the scenes with police investigators as they pursue leads and worried parents as they await news of their children. I found the book most gripping when the situation was still a complete unknown; as the options narrow down and it becomes clear who’s responsible, things feel a bit more predictable. However, there are still unexpected turns to come.

A few elements that stood out for me were the use of technology (FaceTime, WhatsApp and drones weren’t available at the time of Columbine), the Syrian boys’ history, and the student production of Macbeth, whose violence ironically comments on the school’s crisis. While not my usual fare, I found this well worth reading and will look into Lupton’s back catalogue, too.

 

Readalikes: Bloomland by John Englehardt and A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

My rating:

 

Three Hours will be published by Penguin Viking on the 9th. My thanks to the publisher for the free copy for review.

 

See below for the other stops on the blog tour – including my pal Annabel, who has also reviewed the book today.

13 thoughts on “Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

  1. This sounds very interesting. As a Canadian, I think we have a similar attitude toward school shootings, that it wouldn’t happen here, even though it is always a possibility. I think I’ll try and read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read and reviewed this. It was cleverly done and though not my usual kind of reading, i was engaged in it throughout. tThe level of detail about the police procedure and the emergency planning at the school convinced me that she’d done the research needed to make this a feasible scenario. Frightening to think that schools have to have emergency plans though….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can see where this would make for a very compelling story. And how it would attract and repel readers for all sorts of good reasons. Works of fiction that illuminate the pattern of Islamophobia do interest me, so although I’m not necessarily looking to add 2020 publications to my reading list in the immediate future, this is one that I might pick up in the future. Karissa’s comment above is interesting to me because there is a good deal of student-on-student violence here (I live in Toronto, Canada and it has always been an issue wherever I’ve lived in Canada, in smaller cities and towns too, with the severity seeming to have escalated in the past decade) and perhaps it’s more surprising that the news of them isn’t being widely reported or read/researched.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I passed on my proof copy to a lady from book club, and I’m hoping she doesn’t find it ‘too much’ — she has a daughter in secondary school and one in her first year at uni.

      I don’t know why I’d assumed that this kind of scenario was impossible, or at least very unlikely, outside the USA.

      Liked by 1 person

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