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ON THE THIRD DAY
by Rhys Thomas
Black Swan, May 2011
631 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 0552774960


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

An unknown disease turns people into emotionless husks and on the third day they die. There is no known cure and the disease strikes seemingly at random, taking some people but not others. Miriam loses her husband but is determined to save her children. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse near the Cornish coast, shutting themselves away in an attempt to survive, while all around them society slowly crumbles.

There's nothing original in a scenario made familiar by books like the enduringly-popular DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, followed more recently by Alex Scarrow in his excellent LAST LIGHT and AFTERLIGHT, and televisions shows like Survivors but ON THE THIRD DAY still manages to provide a thoroughly gripping read. The slow descent of society into senseless violence is seen mainly through the eyes of Miriam as she struggles to retain her own humanity in the face of horror all around her.

The disease itself is mainly undramatic, which in some ways only adds to the feeling of menace that pervades the story. Those infected simply slip deeper into a depression that becomes known as the Sadness, from which seemingly no one recovers. But for some, the plague unleashes their inner demons and they turn violent, attacking even those closest to them.

The book doesn't dwell on the everyday details of survival and at times I felt that Thomas was over-optimistic in his depiction of the continuance of water, electricity and food supplies for quite some time, but for all that, the narrative remains bleakly convincing. There were some elements of the book I found less convincing, particularly the introduction of the sinister Christopher Mims, an apparent survivor of the disease, and it was hard to see how his inclusion advanced the story, but overall, this is a book that will appeal to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic stories. It is well executed without ever taking an unwelcome nose-dive into predictable horror and Thomas avoids some well-worn clichés while still retaining an ability to shock. There were some rather heavy-handed attempts at allegory that I could easily have lived without, but even so, I certainly surprised myself by galloping through the book in two sittings.

§ Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, May 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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