One by One, the latest novel by Ruth Ware, is drawing a lot of comparisons to Dame Agatha Christie’s novels and for good reason. Not only does it involve a locked-room mystery scenario, but it also has a large and eclectic cast of characters that includes the wealthy, the anti-social genius, the serving class, and everyone in between. Set high in the French Alps, there is an automatic remoteness that sets the initial tone and provides a captive setting for the cast, also a la Dame Christie. The only area which is not an homage to the queen of mystery is the fact that the story suffers from predictability, which dampens the overall effect of the solved crime and lessens your enjoyment.
Two narrators take us through the fatal events that occur over the course of three days in the French Alps. The first narrator provides us with insight into the company members and politics that rule much of the story’s characters. The second narrator provides us with expert knowledge of the French chateau setting as well as that of the remote observer. Naturally, her job as the chateau’s hostess affords her ample opportunity to gain mastery of her observational skills and ability to read body language, everything that makes her sections much more insightful and, frankly, enjoyable.
The switch between narrators never drags, however, allowing the story to smoothly flow as we learn a little bit more about the crimes, the setting, and the people with every switch. Unfortunately, the narrators are a bit too good at their job, and we learn too much information too early. This means that the murder suspect becomes quite obvious very early on in the story, something you don’t want happening in any crime novel. Knowing the murderer does not remove all reader enjoyment, but it certainly dampens it a lot.
While One by One has thriller elements to it, I personally believe it a stronger mystery as most of the story revolves around the whodunnit portions of the murders. In the end, I liked it more than Ms. Ware’s last novel, but it is not my favorite of hers. I missed that Gothic element she tends to insert into her stories, and I cannot overcome that predictability issue. To me, that is a mystery’s death knell.