ONE BY ONE
Ruth Ware (https://ruthware.com/)
Harvill Secker (https://www.penguin.co.uk/)
The directors and shareholders of Snoop, the hottest new music/social media app, have hired a cabin in the little alpine ski resort of Saint Antoine, where they aim to take a well-earned break and chew over the multi-million dollar buyout that could make them all millionaires. Following the disappearance of co-founder Eva van den Berg, their chalet is buried in an avalanche. Cut off from the rest of the world, and miles from their nearest neighbours, factions form and tension fills the air as suspicions are voiced about what might have happened to Eva, and who might be to blame. As the hours and days pass, and with no sign of rescue, the Snoop executives soon discover they are trapped with a murderer who seems intent on picking them off one by one.
I am an occasional reader of Ruth Ware’s novels, and each time I read one I promise myself that I won’t miss the next, and that I’ll go back through her back catalogue and see what I have missed. Her latest novel, One by One, is no exception: it grabs the reader from the opening pages and keeps them glued to the page as tension mounts and disaster ensues. It’s an old-fashioned whodunnit – with all of the mod cons that could spoil such a scenario neatly removed from the equation due to the remote location and the eventual avalanche – that is designed to keep the reader engaged until the very last page.
As we are introduced to the chalet in Saint Antoine, we quickly discover that the protagonists are split into two logical groups: on the one side are Erin and Danny, hostess and chef respectively, employed by the company who owns the chalet to ensure that their guests enjoy the holiday of a lifetime; on the other are the bright young things of British tech, the senior management team of Snoop – an app that allows users to listen, in real time, to the same music as anyone else currently using it. We’ve all met these people, young well-to-do people who have had a great idea and enough money to get it off the ground, who have formed a company that they try to set apart from every other company out there, but end up falling for the same old clichés, the nonsense titles designed to set them apart from their peers (“head of beans”, “chief nerd”, “head of cool”) that do little more than make everyone else thankful that they don’t work there.
Told from alternating viewpoints, we watch as the story unfolds slowly around us. Sometimes the people we are watching are strangers, seen from the outside, while at other times we get a more intimate portrait of who these people are, and how they’ve come to be here, in Saint Antoine, at just the wrong moment. Ware’s ability to create characters and bring them to life is second to none. While the brief bios presented at the start of the book – and the hokey job titles that go with them – give us an idea of what to expect from these people, the author manages to avoid caricature and stereotype and presents us with a group of characters who fit in their respective moulds, but who have enough personality and individuality to allow them to stand out as real and identifiable people.
Ware is the queen of building tension and drawing the reader into the middle of the situation. Once you start, it’s difficult to put One by One down; it rattles along at a relatively quick pace and is, for want of a better description, a huge amount of fun to read, despite its dark and murderous nature. As readers, it’s the relationships between the characters – and the secrets they keep from each other – that draws us in, but it’s the rollercoaster ride of a story that keeps us turning the pages to see what’s coming next. Whodunnit? It’s a question that you might guess the answer to before everyone else does, but the route that Ware takes to the ultimate revelation – and the inevitable foray into the snow-buried town – is the highlight of this beautifully-structured tale.
Ruth Ware is a well-established author, so I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here. If you’ve read her books before, you’ll know what to expect and will undoubtedly crack the spine of One by One with some relish; if you haven’t, then you’re in for a treat; One by One is the perfect addition to your reading list as the nights close in and the temperatures drop. A gripping and – quite literally – chilling page-turner, this is British thriller writing at its finest that will make you think twice before heading for the slopes – why risk it when you can cosy up with this excellent book instead?