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One by One


One by One

Ruth Ware, the bestselling author of THE TURN OF THE KEY and IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, returns with another “locked-door” thriller set in a blissful, rustic mountain chalet --- full of secrets, betrayals and murder.

Snoop is the hottest music-streaming app around, presenting subscribers with a way not only to stream their favorite tunes, but to listen along with other users in real time. Want to see what Lady Gaga listens to as she falls asleep? Snoop. Want to know which songs get Obama hyped for his workouts? Snoop. Want to spend time with a significant other while physically apart? Snoop. Even better, Snoop boasts a company that is full of beautiful, sexy and cool employees as unique as they are magnetic, especially when it comes to Topher and Eva, the former lovers who founded and now run the company.

"With its gorgeous setting and locked-in vibe, ONE BY ONE feels like classic Ruth Ware... There is a nearly cozy aspect to her tone, but it is balanced beautifully by her talent for building suspense and inserting murder into an otherwise idyllic environment."

When we meet the employees of Snoop, they are setting out for the exclusive ski resort of St. Antoine, located high in the French Alps. Joining them is plain, unassuming Liz, a former employee who, despite her insecurities and inability to fit in with her effortlessly cool colleagues, wields great power over the group. What initially seems like a company retreat centered on mindfulness and cooperation is quickly revealed to be something much more: a chance to get all the shareholders together to discuss a buyout.

The current employees are divided, with some siding with Eva, who wants to sell the company for millions of dollars, and the rest agreeing with Topher, who believes there are far more riches to be made in keeping the company and expanding on the model. Standing between them is Liz, an accidental shareholder who has the power to swing the vote --- and the anxiety-inducing fear of making the wrong choice and creating an enemy out of either Topher or Eva.

With a storm approaching and the buyout on the table for consideration, the Snoop team decides on one quick ski before the snow takes over and the conditions become too unsafe. Ostensibly the goal is to blow off steam, have some group fun, and return to the chalet with minds made up just in time for a chef-prepared dinner, fancy cocktails and expensive bottles of wine. But when they get back, Eva is no longer among them, and the storm is closing in.

With Eva missing, the company hierarchy starts to dissolve; the team forms alliances and shares secrets. Adding to the mystery, we see them all from the vantage point of Erin, the housekeeper and host of activities at the chalet. Alternating perspectives between Liz and Erin, Ware invites us to watch as the group bands together, argues and takes to their separate corners, with only Liz and Erin seeing the ties forming and breaking. But no one, not even detail-oriented and responsible Erin, is prepared when Mother Nature steps in and an avalanche strands the group with no power, desperate motivations and...murder?

The temperatures are dropping, the body count is rising, and Liz and Erin are desperate not only to find the killer but to make sure that the rest of the guests make it off the mountain alive. Ware employs her trademark “locked-room” technique to ramp up the suspense, turning the novel into a sort of game of Clue, with no WiFi, no outside forces, and no lack of secrets and betrayals. Neither Liz nor Erin is sure who they can trust; even worse, everyone seems to have a motive. So it is up to the two of them to decide who has the most to gain and who already has lost the most. Weaving the wild, snow-covered mountain with the equally dangerous murderer among the group, Ware crafts a totally immersive and atmospheric thriller with a classic whodunit feel.

As much as I enjoyed ONE BY ONE, I will be the first to say that it is a rather familiar plot that feels heavily informed by the works of Agatha Christie. By no means does this diminish the suspense or mystery here, but it is very much a “cookie-cutter” book for newer thriller readers who are not as well-versed in classics. The characters are also a bit lackluster at times; I found myself not fully invested in their backstories and often felt that they distracted from the main plot. I did enjoy Liz and Erin's perspectives, which fleshed out the mystery and helped us see the clues, but I did not want to hear about their lives before the retreat. Give me more murder!

With its gorgeous setting and locked-in vibe, ONE BY ONE feels like classic Ruth Ware, a return to her earlier works, like IN A DARK, DARK WOOD and THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10. There is a nearly cozy aspect to her tone, but it is balanced beautifully by her talent for building suspense and inserting murder into an otherwise idyllic environment.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 11, 2020

One by One
by Ruth Ware