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Three A.M. by Steven John
Cover Artist: Photo: Christophe Dessaigne / Trevilion Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765331168
Date: 27 March 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

For fifteen years, Tom Vale has been quarantined inside a city enshrouded by thick, impenetrable fog. Outside the city, the world has been ravaged by a mysterious plague that killed millions. No one can enter the city and no one can leave. When he isn't drunk, Tom works as a debt collector or a PI who beats up people. Mostly he stumbles through life, from one bottle to the next. Then he meets a mysterious client, Rebecca, who claims her boyfriend has been framed for the murder of a scientist. Soon, Tom is no longer stumbling, but running for his life as he uncovers the deadly secrets that have imprisoned over twenty thousand innocent people inside a city of fog.

Steven John's Three A.M.. is a brilliant novel that highly intrigued me. Like many classic novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it works well on various levels. First, it is a great science fiction horror story of people trapped in a nightmare world. Second, this novel is a social commentary. The setting and time are unknown, because Three A.M. could apply to any culture that has been decimated by greed. In today's society, many citizens walk aimlessly and despairingly through life as though trapped in a fog. Tom Vale compared humans to animals whose sole purpose in life is to eat, sleep, and procreate. In the city of fog, life has amounted to no more than this. Then Tom finds love in the form of Rebecca and, suddenly, life has more meaning than obtaining the bare necessities; however, life soon also becomes more dangerous, more exciting.

Initially, Tom Vale is not a very likeable character. He curses and drinks too much and has a very pessimistic, cynical outlook on life. Of course, if I lived in a world without sunshine, grass, beaches, sporting events, etc., I would also be manic depressant. Three A.M. made me realize how we take the little things in life for granted. We assume the sun will always shine and we'll always have green grass on which to play. However, as the novel's plot progresses, Tom transforms into a brave, shoot 'em up action hero we can all admire. After all, he's trying to save the lives of thousands and his military background proves invaluable.

Three A.M. reminded me of the many end-of-the-world horror films I watched as a child. I won't mention any specific ones for fear of divulging too much of the plot. I will say, however, there are numerous twists and turns and some genuine shockers. I will also say that many of its characters are deceitful, untrustworthy, and greedy; their main goal is to survive at everyone else's expense. This could aptly describe many people today who are blinded by a fog of amorality.

At last, I have found an atmospheric horror novel with an atmosphere that is truly bizarre, creepy, and provocative. Three A.M. is aptly named because it will keep readers up past 3:00 a.m. reading it. Not since James Herbert's classic horror novel, Fog, have I encountered a tale where people were more terrified by this swirling, damp, hazy substance. The fog, and the unknown horrors that lurk within it, has been the theme for many horror films including John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) and Frank Darabont's The Mist. For a taste of old school science fiction horror, then I highly recommend Steven John's triumphant debut, Three A.M. I am definitely looking forward to his next novel. Perhaps that one will keep me up at night reading until well past 4:00 a.m.

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