Book Review – One by One by Ruth Ware

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I finished Twleve Nights about 2/3 days before the end of 2020 so I had a bit of a conundrum about what to pick next. I wanted something that I could definitely finish in time because I hate the idea of carrying a book over. I feel like a failure and I don’t like that it skews my final count. I picked this one up even though it’s the longest book I’ve read for ages because I was being cocky. Of course, when it got to the morning of the 31st, I still have about 200 pages to go. Considering we were babysitting my niece during the day, it didn’t leave me with a great deal of time to read either. So, as soon as she left, I retreated to my room and didn’t come out until I’d finished. As it turned out, I finished it in about 2 hours, which goes to show how much more I could achieve if I just took the time to read properly. Anyway, I did what I wanted and got it finished. But was it the best book to choose as my final book of the year?

I’ve only ever read one other book by Ruth Ware and I can’t say that I was too impressed by that one. Turn of the Key just didn’t live up to all of the hype. It certainly didn’t live up to its connection with Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. For her latest book, Ware is doing her best to channel Agatha Christie with this homage to And Then There Were None. I’ll admit that the plot did sound intriguing and was the only reason that I decided to give her another chance. An isolated ski lodge in the middle of an avalanche? That’s a bloody great setting for a murder mystery. Talk about atmospheric.

When the employees of music app Snoop arrive at their ski chalet, they are imagining a week of financial presentations, skiing, and having a good time. The avalanche that leaves them trapped is a big surprise as is the increasing number of dead bodies that start turning up. It looks as if each of the employees is being picked off one by one but could any of the guests really be a killer? And what exactly does it have to do with the potential buyout that one of the owners is pushing for? With no way to escape, it doesn’t take long for the accusations to fly and, suddenly, the people you work with every day start to look very suspicious.

For starters, I’m not a fan of thrillers that start off with a little teaser because I think it’s a really lazy way to increase the tension. One by One opens with a newspaper clipping relating to the incident that we’re about to experience. It adds nothing to the set up of the story but allows Ware to create tension without going to the trouble of building it. If anything, it lessens the tension because it gives away the final body count. As the novel goes on, you know how many deaths are left to come. You’re hardly on the edge of your seat as your counting down. I realise that it’s meant to give added realism and be more immersive. However, it just doesn’t work in this setting.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that it is painfully obvious which character is the killer. Ware has many attempts to put the spotlight onto every possible character, but it’s very easy to see through these. If anything, all of the accusations that are being thrown around only make things more obvious. Rather than throwing you off the scent, Ware just tells you exactly where you should be looking. It’s a messy technique and it only succeeds in dragging out the inevitable. Then there’s the fact that once Ware reveals who the killer is, we have another third of the novel to get through. It’s awful. I was convinced that Ware was being paid by the word with this one.

There is a problem with pacing in this novel. The first half feels quite speedy, perhaps even too speedy. It does sort of rush through the introductions of each character which leaves the majority of them feeling quite underdeveloped. One by One is narrated by two different voices but even they feel decidedly thin. The first is Liz, an ex-Snoop employee who, as a minor shareholder, is invited on the company retreat. The second is Erin, one of the chalet employees who are responsible for looking after the guests during their visit. Both women have secrets but it’s not exactly difficult to figure them out. There is little depth to either of them and there should have been room to discuss aspects of their psychology further.

And what of the other characters? Well, we learn pretty much everything about them from the employee bios at the start. Another of Ware’s attempts to make her novel more immersive but it ends up simply being quite cringey. I realise that it’s supposed to give us an insight into what kind of company Snoop is but it just seems so misjudged. This is a novel that has clearly been written by someone who is terrified of technology and is unsure of how it works. Not only is this parody of a tech company just dull but the app doesn’t make sense. Throwing around words like geotagging does not make it sound like you know what you’re talking about.

All in all, this is a disappointing attempt at a locked room mystery. It lacks tension and mystery. Ware doesn’t spend enough time developing the narrative and allowing the mood to build naturally. Instead, she favours action and gimmick to shock her readers. For a novel that is meant to be emulating Agatha Christie, Ware has clearly lost her way. The avalanche doesn’t create enough drama and there is never a great sense of impending danger. The lack of power in the chalet should make for an atmospheric setting but there are no real scares. This is all just superficial drama. Ware never really goes beneath the surface in order to amp up her novel. Though it may by highly readable, this is a disappointing novel.

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