One by OneOne by One by Ruth Ware
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

this is my third ruth ware novel and, enjoyment-wise, it’s riiiiight in the middle. i read In a Dark, Dark Wood way back when i was a reader for bn’s discover program, and i disliked it, and then i didn’t read her again until i (very favorably) reviewed The Turn of the Key for l.a. review of books.

early reviews of this book were not encouraging, and while it didn’t blow my mind, i really don’t ask for much these days—if a book can hold my attention and keep my mind off whatever fresh hell is making the news or infecting my commute, i am grateful and thank it for its service.

the setup is classic locked room mystery: twelve people with secrets and loyalties and varying degrees of unpleasantness, trapped by avalanche in an isolated ski chalet in the french alps, in a situation where, potentially, there’s a great deal of money at stake, and then murrrrrderrrrrrrr! and then murrrrrderrrrrrrr again! and again. and—well, you’ve read the book’s title, so there you have it.

is the whodunnit too obvious? i dunno—mysteries are tricksy beasts; sometimes a character will look soooo suspicious, all neon arrows pointed their way, and then BUT WAIT happens and those arrows were all red herrings designed to throw you off-course. and then other times the neon arrows are meant to make you, a savvy mystery fan, THINK they’re disingenuous red herrings when in fact they were legit warnings all along. and still other times you’re told right from the start who did what to whom in the where with the what, so at the end of the day, there’s more to the genre than its reveal, and even if you’ve correctly guessed the killer, you might not suspect the how or who of the victim list, nor the fate of the murderer themselves.

i enjoyed the atmosphere and the sheer page-turnery thrust of it—the short chapters and alternating voice made it very bingeable, which is a quality i appreciate very much these days.

i do have a gripe with the way the book ends, and it’s the same gripe i had with how The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is shaped; where the murdery mystery part resolves but then there’s a million pages wrapping up the financial mystery that no one even remembered was a thing.

this one’s action sequence ends, and instead of an epilogue where, typically, there’d be some sort of brief desultory wrap-up, instead there’s another thirty pages to go, so you’re braced for some kind of twist, but nope. just some character work no one asked for in a book whose large cast of folks we knew from the start were mostly gonna die meant that we hadn’t invested much in them as individuals—they were stock characters intended to be fodder.

and there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s no judgment here; the function of characters in this kind of mystery are different then in other kinds of genres or even other kinds of mysteries; the readers’ expectations are less tied to the characters’ hopes and dreams and more to how they’re gonna croak.

so my note would be “know thy genre”—no one’s ever looking for emotional resolution or the facing of personal demons for a survivor of an agatha christie style locked room multi-corpse mystery.

agatha christie was a fantastic mystery writer but she didn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out the backstories of her partygoer-victims. she gave ’em basic attributes and 2-3 details designed to to provoke or or misdirect suspicion; they were very broadly drawn representatives of class or gender, and that was enough. no one needed closure on what lady fancyaccent did after returning from that unfortunate countryside weekend with all the corpses and the deplorable claret.

here, we get that, and it adds nothing to the experience; a coda that just kind of flops around and dulls the thrill of the whole WHO WILL SURVIVE journey.

so, not a game-changer, but a perfectly enjoyable diversion from all the real-world chaos, so tack a .5 onto these three stars cats.


awww, the “publishing plan” on my ARC copy makes me sad with all its pre-covid optimism: the 10-city book tour, san diego comic con, targeted outreach to ski lodges, and most alarmingly: the multi-touch email campaign.

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