In this fascinating and deeply creepy novel by South African author Sarah Lotz, four commercial flights go down on the same day. Everyone on board perishes except three children: a British preteen named Jess; an American boy named Bobby; and a Japanese boy named Hiro. The children are uninjured, but their personalities have changed.

Just one other person survives, albeit briefly: Pamela Donald, a middle-aged Texan who lives long enough to record a mysterious message on her phone. Her pastor, Len Vorhees, who has been trying to break into the big leagues of televangelism, uses the message to start a new cult of “Pamelists,” who believe the three surviving children signal the apocalypse. Rapture Fever is soon spreading around the nation.

Trailed by religious zealots and under intense media scrutiny, the orphans and their new caregivers are forced into seclusion, even as the children’s behavior grows more unsettling. Is it the result of surviving a harrowing disaster, or something else?

The Three is nifty in part because it is a book within a book. Investigative journalist Elspeth Martins has searched out everyone remotely connected to the crashes: the paramedics who responded to the crash in Africa; the prostitute sleeping with Pastor Len; Bobby’s grandmother, who suspects that Bobby has somehow eased his grandfather’s severe Alzheimer’s. The novel is at its eerie best with the transcription of voice recordings by Jess’ Uncle Paul, who slowly descends into madness as he tries to determine what’s wrong with his niece.

Lotz has honed her writing skills as a screenwriter and YA author, and here she spins a tail of disaster and fanaticism that is both entertaining and scarily realistic. The Three is the real deal: gripping, unpredictable and utterly satisfying.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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