Also by this author: The Promise, The Drummer Boy, Sinner, Green, The Dream Traveler's Quest, Into the Book of Light, The Curse of Shadownman, The Garden and the Serpent, The Final Judgment, Millie Maven and the Bronze Medallion
Published by Center Street, Thomas Nelson on June 2003
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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The award-winning, best-selling suspense masterwork, now a major motion picture event.
Enter a world where nothing is what it seems. Where your closest friend could be your greatest enemy.
Kevin Parson is alone in his car when his cell phone rings. A man calling himself Slater offers a deadly ultimatum: "You have exactly three minutes to confess your sin to the world. Refuse, and the car you're driving will blow sky high." Then the phone goes dead.
Kevin panics. Who would make such a demand? What sin? Yet not sure what else to do, Kevin swerves into a parking lot and runs from his car. Just in case.
Precisely three minutes later, a massive explosion sets his world on a collision course with madness. And that's only the first move in this deadly game.
From the #1 best-selling fiction author comes a powerful story of good, evil, and all that lies between.
Kevin Parson escaped a twisted childhood and found some sense of normalcy in the outside world. He’s assimilated. Built his own life outside of the cultish confines of his stepparents’ household. Graduated from college. Is now attending seminary. He’s left his bizarre past behind him. Until a cell phone rings and a gravelly voice tells him he has just three minutes to confess his sin or have his car blown to pieces. Kevin survives, but the voice called Slater is just beginning his game.
Thr3e has all the hallmarks of an intense psychological thriller. Kevin is reunited with his childhood friend Samantha, now a police officer, and must reenter his abuse past in order to understand the sin Slater wants him to confess. All evidence points back to a childhood bully of both Kevin and Sam’s—a punk kid who’s back for his revenge. But not everything is as it seems, and as the pieces come together Sam and the authorities begin to realize the full trauma of Kevin’s past. It all leads to a stunning, disturbing, and eye-opening conclusion.
Even without Thr3e’s shocking twist—which is foreshadowed perfectly—its intense action and great characterization make it a compelling read. Dekker delivers heart-pounding action mixed in with deep psychological intensity that explodes off the page. More than just stellar writing, careful plotting, and thunderous pacing, Thr3e grapples with one of the truly great questions of man. What is the nature of man? Is he good? Is he evil? Do these concepts even exist? Thr3e fictionalizes the very real struggle of human nature and places it in tangible terms within the life of one man – Kevin Parson. Dekker’s message is clear by the end of the novel without it hitting you in the face or ruining the suspense within the story. It’s cleverly crafted and, even knowing the twist, I still found myself sucked into the story.
You can’t really talk in depth about Thr3e without talking about the twist. So here’s spoilers for an almost twenty year old book. Kevin is Slater is Sam. Thr3e becomes a parable of sorts that plays out what Paul writes in Romans 7: the sin nature, the spiritual nature, and the individual wrestling between the two. Because of his abusive childhood, Kevin experiences a psychotic break and dissociates into three identities. There’s Samantha, his best friend, and Slater the bully—his good and bad sides—and then there’s Kevin caught between them. In the book, a young Kevin locks Slater in a warehouse, effectively imprisoning his sin nature. Sam mysteriously moves away and it’s not until Kevin begins to explore the topic of human nature in seminary that these alternate personalities return.
Multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder, is both a real mental health condition and a literary trope. Robert Lewis Stevenson paved the way with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stephen King explored this with Detta/Odetta in The Dark Tower. Marvel toys with the idea with The Incredible Hulk and Moonknight. M. Night Shyamalan uses the device in Split. This has long been a trope of analogizing the human struggle. And while it’s a popular literary trope, we should also be careful when we use real disabilities as plot devices. Mental illness is not a plot device.
So we wade carefully into Thr3e to see if it exploits or improperly uses dissociative identity disorder to make a good thriller. First, it’s worth noting that DID is usually the result of childhood sexual or physical abuse. That is precisely the type of environment that Dekker paints as Kevin’s childhood reality. He suffers the death of both parents and lives with his mentally ill aunt and uncle, who are completely detached from reality. He’s not allowed to interact with other children and physical abuse is heavily implied. With some allowances for the boundaries of Christian fiction, Dekker presents Kevin’s mental illness as a mental illness—not a plot twist, not possession by another entity, and not simply for shock value.
Second, Kevin’s dissociative identities are central to the book’s theme. They aren’t just to make the bad guy seem more bad, like James Patterson does in Along Came a Spider, the first Alex Cross novel. There’s a reason for the character to behave and act this way, both in terms of story and theme. Kevin’s good nature (Samantha) and evil nature (Slater) are at war against each other with Kevin as their prize. This isn’t quite how DID actually works, but again we’re fictionalizing with a spiritual application in mind. Thr3e walks a careful balance between making its theological point and being medically accurate and, while not perfect, is so much better than most attempts in literature.
Dekker has long said that fiction is about taking real life things to their extreme and watching them play out in a safe environment. That’s what Thr3e does. It takes the internal war of God’s law and the law of sin (Romans 7:21-25), with humankind struggling in the balance and concludes: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Dekker also tells the story well. Even knowing the plot twist, I couldn’t detect any holes or inconsistencies. The twist isn’t just kept from us, the reader, but from the other characters as well. It’s a well-written, pulse-pounding, thoughtful, incisive psychological thriller. This book won Ted his first Christy Award and it was well-deserved. It remains one of his best books.
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