Originally published: 9 January 2020
Author: Rosamund Lupton
Published by: Viking Books
Length: 305 pages
Reading dates: 22-25 December 2019
In rural Somerset, during a blizzard, the unthinkable happens. As children start their day at Cliff Height’s school, shots are fired, the headmaster is badly injured and the school goes into lockdown.
Told from the point of view of multiple characters we hear from the wounded headmaster, the sixth formers who are in the library with him, who are able to hear one of the shooters walking up and down the corridor, the drama teacher and the children rehearsing Macbeth in the theatre, the mother of the one of the unaccounted for children, a Syrian refugee and his little brother who are both pupils at the school and a police psychologist. Cliff Height’s school is situated in woodland and is a liberal and thriving independent school, and no one expects a school like this to be targeted.
As the title suggests it is set in a period of just three hours, I was completely wrapped up in this book and struggled to put it down. There are two shooters – one is pacing up and down outside the library, the other has his gun pointed at a class of 7 year olds in an isolated classroom in the woods. The pressure the police are under in trying to decide how to handle it is immense.
The two Syrian refugees were fantastic characters. Rafi and younger brother Basi haven’t been at the school long and their experience with what is going on at the school is interspersed with their experiences in Syria, the loss of their parents, their terrifying journey to get to safety in England and the fact they are still both suffering with PTSD but are both still courageous and brave.
But I think the character I identified with most is Beth Alton, who arrives at the school when she hears it is in lockdown along with all the other parents, terrified her son Jamie is in danger, sick with worry when she learns he is one of the children who is unaccounted for. The imaginary conversations she has with him are so touching.
As a mother, this sort of situation is one of my worst fears and the fact it is set in the UK instead of the US where school shootings are a more common occurrence, made it all the more terrifying. I knew my son’s school has a lockdown procedure and after reading this book, I asked him more about it. He was very matter of fact about what it involved and while it saddens me that they have to know about it, I’m glad the schools have a policy in place.
The short time scale that the story is set in and the subject matter make this an exhilarating and tense read, this is one of the most thrilling books I have ever read! I thoroughly enjoyed this, absolutely chillingly brilliant!
Thank you so much to Ellie from Penguin Viking for inviting me on the tour and for sending me a copy of the book.
About the author:
Rosamund Lupton is the author of four novels. She graduated from Cambridge University in 1986. After reviewing books for the Literary Reviews and being invited to join the Royal Court Theatre, she won a television play competition and subsequently worked as a screen writer. Her debut novel Sister, was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over thirty languages and has international sales of over 1.5 million copies. It was the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author, and was winner of the Richard and Judy Best Debut Novel of 2011 Award and the Strand Magazine Critics First Novel Award. Film rights of Sister are currently under option.
Lupton’s critically acclaimed second novel Afterwards also went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists and was the No. 2 Sunday Times fiction bestseller of 2011. The Quality of Silence her third novel was a Sunday Times best seller and a Richard & Judy bookclub pick