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One by One

By Ruth Ware



One by One by Ruth Ware, A ski chalet retreat that turns deadly.

Synopsis

In One by One, ten people who work for a startup travel to a ski lodge for a company retreat. It's a secluded luxury chalet, which is soon made even more isolated due to a snowstorm in the area, which soon leads to an avalanche that leaves them stranded.

When the first fatality among the group happens, it's viewed as a tragic accident. But when the next occurs, it's clear that something much more sinister is going on. In this snowy mountain-top mystery-thriller, they know that the killer is one of them, but they'll need to figure out who it is, and soon, to avoid being picked off, one by one.

(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)

Detailed Plot Summary

Section-by-Section Summary
See the Section-by-Section Summary of One by One
Quick Plot Summary

A group of ten people from a startup called Snoop arrive at a nine-room luxury ski chalet in France for a company retreat. Only accessible by funicular (a tunneled railroad), the ski lodge is secluded with the main town of St. Antoine far down the mountain. Erin (housekeeper) and Danny (cook) work at the chalet.

Snoop is a app that lets you listen in on music that other people are listening to. There is currently a buyout offer for Snoop. The only people with voting rights in the company are the four founders (Rik, Elliot, Eva, and Topher), and Liz. Liz is the quiet outcast of the group, a former assistant at Snoop. When they were in a financial bind, Liz had agreed to invest $10K of a recent inheritance in exchange for 2% voting shares. Now, Eva (30% voting power) and Rik (19%) want to sell. But Topher (30%) and Elliot (19%) do not. Liz's will be the deciding vote, and she is struggling with the decision. (The non-voting members of Snoop are Tiger, Miranda, Ani, Carl and Inigo.)

Liz feels indebted to Topher, who was the one who encouraged her to negotiate for voting rights and equity (as opposed to repayment). But Liz's shares are worth $12 million in a buyout, and Eva is pressuring her to sell. After tense discussions, the group goes skiing. However, Eva doesn't return. Erin and Danny try to go out to get help, but there is an avalanche, resulting in Erin spraining her ankle and poor reception in the area. Still, Inigo manages to call the police.

The power also goes down in the chalet, and the backup generator is inaccessible due to the avalanche. Elliot (tech guy) uses a charging brick he brought and the app's new geolocation feature to locate Eva's phone. However, it shows that Eva likely plunged off the side of a cliff. After the shock wears off, they realize an early shareholder agreement stipulates that in the event of Eva's death, Eva's shares must be sold to Topher, which means that her death gives Topher a total of 60% voting power.

Soon, however, Elliot is found dead, with traces of white powder in a cup near him, with his computer completely destroyed. They start to raise the possibility that Eva was murdered, too. Scared, they agree to stay in groups and implement other precautions. Then, Inigo disappears. He leaves a note saying that he's made a mistake, and he is going to fix it, though no one knows what he's referring to.

That night, they all pair off to sleep, except for Liz. Ani (who is paired with Tiger) goes over to invite her to join them, but Liz declines. Tiger awakes to find Ani smothered to death in her sleep. Tiger had taken a sleeping pill and didn't wake while Ani was being murdered, and Danny's key (to all the rooms) is missing. Meanwhile, it comes out that Erin is not what she seems. Her brother went to boarding school with Topher, Rik, and Elliot. Erin's brother and boyfriend died in an avalanche, and she was with them at the time.

Unwilling to stay and get picked off one by one, the group comes up with a plan for the experienced skiiers to try to ski down for help and for the rest go walk to the nearby chalet, three hours away, to get help. Liz falls and injures her knee and Erin's ankle is hurt, so they stay put. But after the others leave, Erin finds Danny's missing key in the place Liz had been sitting, and Erin realizes Liz is likely the killer. Liz picks up on this and gives Erin tea with sleeping pills in it.

Thinking that Erin is about to die, Liz admits that she is the killer, and that Eva had been blackmailing her to get her vote. Liz had been sexually assaulted by a potential investor and pushed him away from her, off of a balcony to his death. Eva helped her cover it up. Elliot had been on the verge of finding out that Liz was on the slope at the time of Eva's death, due to the new geolocation feature. And Ani had known that Liz wasn't where she said she was (on the lift) when Eva died.

Erin pretends to drink the tea and escapes on skis (since she can't walk/run). Liz follows. Erin travels down a difficult, hidden path, and Liz is killed trying to follow after her. Erin is soon rescued.

Two days later, Inigo tells Erin that the he mistakenly gave the police the wrong name of the chalet which is why they didn't show up sooner. That was the mistake he was trying to fix. Meanwhile, Topher has received a file of information from Eva's husband. Apparently, Eva had dirt on all sorts of people. It includes a video of Liz killing the potential investor. It shows that Liz pushed him away, but that she pushed him a second time (off the balcony) to purposely murder him. It's also clear that Eva had set up the situation (with Liz as the victim), in order to get dirt on the investor, not realizing what Liz's true nature was.

Soon, the chalet is closed down, and Snoop is shut down and goes into bankruptcy. The book ends with Danny telling Erin about a new app, called Choon (which is basically just like Snoop, but with a different name).

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Book Review

One by One brings a group of people together and then has them slowly start to die off. They’re all with a company that makes a music app which allows users to listen to the music that other people are listening to. And they’re in the middle of an increasingly contentious debate about whether to accept a buyout offer for the company. As a result, allegiances are being made and tested. When the avalanche hits, they learn that they are functionally stranded there, and they’re soon left without reception or power.

All of this made for an interesting set of dynamics. The actual mystery doesn’t get underway until a little while in, but I felt engaged enough by the situation regarding this crisis in their company and whatnot, so I was enjoying reading this regardless.

That said, there’s one unfortunately a glaring flaw in this book, which is that the killer is a little obvious. In general, there just wasn’t enough ambiguity to really make for legitimate misdirection. Chances are, if you read this book, you’ll probably be able guess who the killer is. There’s a few smaller-scale “reveals” but the main one is unfortunately a bit of a let down. However, the flip side of that is that it’s nice that Ware puts in enough clues to really let you figure it out if you’re inclined to do so.

I like Ware’s writing, which I find serviceable, well-paced and unobtrusive, which is what I’m generally looking for in a mystery novel. And I found a lot of the plot interesting enough that I actually still had a good time reading it even despite the less-than-climactic reveal at the end. But, knowing the ending doesn’t have those fun twists and turns that mystery lovers tend to enjoy makes it a little harder for me recommend this book to others.

As a minor sidenote, I also hated, HATED the follower updates on the “Snoop app” that begin each chapter. Basically, every chapter is preceded by a description of the user profile (the user ID, number of followers, and number of listeners) for whichever character is narrating that chapter. It is totally pointless. And on audiobook, it’s really annoying. I chafed each time I heard the word “Snoopscribers”, and you have to listen to it recite this information at the beginning of each of the nearly 100 chapters in the book. For this reason alone, I do not recommend the audiobook. Blech.

As a final note, I’ve seen some comments disparaging this book because they think Ruth Ware is just copying “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie. I have to say, I don’t think those people are familiar with the plot of either one or both of these books. They both involve a group of people in an isolated, closed room mystery situation, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Read it or Skip it?

I liked this book, mostly because I think Ware has set up some interesting dynamics as far as the plot goes — the isolated and snow-capped setting, utilities breaking down, the rift going on between the characters, the presence of two outsiders, and so on and so forth. I thought it was a solid premise, and it kept my interest.

But the obviousness of the resolution makes it tough for me to recommend enthusiastically to others. If you’re a Ruth Ware fan and you like her writing, I’d say give it a shot.

If you’re a general mystery-thriller fan, there’s better mysteries out there and this book probably isn’t a great place to start if you’ve never read one of Ware’s books and are looking to try one out. So, kind of a “meh” recommendation as far as this book goes, but I’m still looking forward to whatever Ruth Ware comes up with next!

See One by One on Amazon.

One By One, Explained!

Spoilers and Explanation start here! Don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t read the book! Keep reading if you’ve read the book, but have questions!

Where can I find a full plot summary for One By One?

Right Here! You can find a Quick Summary and the Section-by-Section summary here.

What happens at the end of One By One?

Near the end, Eva, Elliot and Ani are dead. Erin and Liz, both injured, end up at the chalet by themselves after the others go for help.

Erin realizes that Liz is the killer because she finds Danny’s missing key (opens all the rooms, which would have allowed Liz to kill Ani) where Liz had been sitting. Erin also gets into Elliot’s phone and sees that he’d been tracking Liz’s anonymous account just before he died (it’s later clarified that the geo-location data could have incriminated Liz, by showing that Liz was on the slope at the same time Eva had been at the time of her death).

Liz tries to kill Erin by giving her tea with crush sleeping pills in it. Thinking that Erin is soon to be dead, Liz admits her role in all of this, and tells Erin her motivation. Eva had been blackmailing her to try to get her vote. Liz had been sexually assaulted by a potential investor and pushed him away from her, off of a balcony to his death. Eva helped her cover it up. Elliot had been on the verge of finding out that Liz was on the slope at the time of Eva’s death, due to the new geolocation feature. And Ani had known that Liz wasn’t where she said she was (on the lift) when Eva died.

However, Erin only pretends to drink the tea. Instead, Erin escapes, with Liz hot on her trail. Erin skis down a dangerous path to get away, and Liz tries to follow her but crashes into a rock wall and dies in the process.

Erin is rescued. Later, Topher gets a file of information from Eva’s husband. Apparently, Eva had dirt on all sorts of people. It includes a video of Liz killing the potential investor. It shows that Liz pushed him away, but that she pushed him a second time (off the balcony) to purposely murder him. It’s also clear that Eva had set up the situation (with Liz as the victim), in order to get dirt on the investor, not realizing what Liz’s true nature was.

Soon, the chalet is closed down, and Snoop is shut down and goes into bankruptcy. The book ends with Danny telling Erin about a new app, called Choon (which is basically just like Snoop, but with a different name).

What’s the deal with Danny and the new app, Choon, at the end of One By One?

I’m not really sure about this one. Given that Ware ends the book by introducing this new app, Choon (a clone of Snoop), it seems like it should have some type of significance, but honestly, I don’t see anything that indicates it’s anything other that some app that’s similar to Snoop.

It might just be Ware’s way of showing the increased trust in Danny and Erin’s relationship. In the beginning of the book, Danny refuses to tell Erin his ID on Snoop, saying that “you might snoop on me.” But at the end of the book, he gives her his id, DannyBoi, on Choon.

If you’ve got a better theory on this, feel free to drop a comment below! If anyone comes up with anything good, I’m happy to add it here and credit you, but I feel like I read this book pretty thoroughly and don’t know what else it could mean.

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of One by One


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