One By One

Ruth Ware is one of those authors whose books are an auto-buy for me. She renewed my love for thrillers with The Woman in Cabin 10, and I’ve since collected and loved all her other novels. Her latest is One By One, another locked-room mystery, but this time with some new themes and twists. I got it from Book of the Month in September, and though my husband won out on reading it first, I was excited to follow suit.

Summary

One By One whisks us away to a ski chalet in the French Alps. Half of the chapters come from the perspective of Erin, the hostess of the chalet. The other half follows Liz, there on a sort of business trip with nine employees of a music app startup called Snoop. Though Liz once worked at Snoop, she left a few years before. So why is she on a corporate retreat with them now? Because she has shares, and her vote could determine whether Snoop is bought out.

As tensions between the co-workers run high, an avalanche strikes the chalet, stranding the group with no electricity, no way to contact the outside world… and no way to escape. Worse yet, someone among the group is murdering the guests, one at a time, meaning no one is safe.

Review

Ruth Ware is a master of breakneck speed thrillers, and One By One is no different. It’s her first novel to follow two different narrators, though in this case it may lead to less reliability. Erin and Liz are both hiding things… but does that make either of them dangerous? Might either of them be able to unlock the mystery of who the killer is? In One By One, anything could be possible.

Erin and Liz are both great characters, and each is relatable in her own way. Erin is a people person and good at her job as hostess, but she runs from a dark past and has anger lurking just behind her politeness. Liz is shy and awkward, with some hard stuff in her past, too. But is one of them hiding more?

Beyond Liz and Erin, One By One offers a cast of fun and often irritating characters. My favorite may be Danny, the chef who works at the chalet with Erin. The Snoop team is full of characters trying so hard to look cool, but ultimately coming off as annoying and pretentious. That Ruth Ware starts the book with their hilarious job titles and ridiculous “about me” work bios is a treat in itself. While the co-founders Topher and Eva are easy to dislike, others in the company – like Ani and Tiger – actually come across as genuine and likable. But with this mixed bag of a cast, there’s plenty of room for uncertainty.

Indeed, uncertainty defines the early events. When our first victim goes missing, it’s unclear if she’s actually in danger or is somewhere safe, if she’s lost or if she’s already dead. The avalanche only confuses matters more. But when we get our first in-cabin victim, things start to get a lot more nerve-wracking. Was that a medical emergency? A suicide? Murder?! But who in this group could murder? And why would they want to?

The questions are endless, and we end up with a lot of suspects with enough motive to seem implicating. But as more people disappear, tell half-truths, and end up dead, those who once seemed suspect may not be those who actually did anything sinister.

I loved the interplay of co-workers and professional themes in this book – they bring about new motives that I don’t see as often in the thrillers I read. Would any of these characters kill for money? What about for forbidden love? Here, we get to see just how toxic some working relationships can be.

I’ve mentioned the French Alps and an avalanche already, but I do want to take a moment to admire the setting for One By One. While all of Ruth Ware’s previous books take place in the UK, this is her first to take readers to mainland Europe. The ski slopes make for a wonderful and chilling backdrop here. You’ll be immersed into a land of glistening white mountains covered in powdery snow and treacherous ice. The cozy cabin is vivid on the page, but as the electricity runs out for our characters, you too will feel the numbing cold set in.

And we can’t not talk about that ending. Of course, there will be no spoilers here. But I will say, once the climax hits, One By One races ahead at an electrifying speed. Though I’d planned to stop for the night and save the rest for the next day, the scene was too gripping for me to stop. In the end I stayed up late, my heart racing as I rooted for a final victim to escape the determined killer.

The book ends with some epilogue-style extras, divulging some buried secrets, but not all of them. While the killer may have had some history explaining their actions, in the end, they weren’t as innocent as they’d think, either.

Final Thoughts

Ruth Ware has done it again, and One By One was another stellar thriller. At this point, it’s getting harder and harder to say what my favorite Ruth Ware book is; I now seem to have a four-way tie for #1. Her newest novel is among her best, and I can’t wait for all the future books she’ll release.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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