One By One

Ruth Ware

(Harvill Secker, £12.99)

RUTH Ware has a knack for nailing the creeping fear and paranoia that builds in eerie, isolated locations. She weaves her gripping thrillers in secluded forests, remote country houses and claustrophobic cruise ship cabins. It’s a winning formula.

Her 2019 book, The Turn Of The Key, about a live-in nanny and four children, was a well-received update of Henry James’s 1898 gothic suspense and horror novella, The Turn Of The Screw, pitched at a modern audience. Ware’s latest novel, One By One, continues in that vein with a deftly written homage and contemporary twist on Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, And Then There Were None.

The book opens with a chilling news report: a deadly avalanche, a series of grisly deaths and the authorities blamed for not stepping in sooner. As has become her modus operandi, Ware hooks the reader into a glamorous world that glitters with danger. In the case of One By One, if you like seeing self-aggrandising hipsters being killed off, then you have come to the right place.

Things begin in typically idyllic fashion as an eclectic group of guests arrive at a swish Alpine chalet in the exclusive French ski resort of Saint Antoine for their corporate retreat.

They are the founders, shareholders and senior employees of a social media music app called Snoop – a cross between Facebook and Spotify – which allows people to listen to the same tracks as any fellow users they are “snooping” on.

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As you might expect, the Snoop mob are a gratingly ridiculous and preening bunch with laugh-out-loud job titles that include “head of beans”, “chief nerd”, “friends tsar”, “head of cool” and “law man” (a tongue-in-cheek nod to some well-known tech start-ups).

The reason for their pow-wow is to decide whether to go ahead with a billion-dollar dotcom buyout that could make them rich, although not without some sacrifices. The clock is ticking on the offer and with the group split about what to do, tensions run high.

Two opposing camps form under co-founders Topher St Clair-Bridges and Eva van den Berg, who each have starkly different visions for the company’s future. At loggerheads, the team hits the ski slopes to blow off steam. Not all of them make it back from an ill-advised decision to tackle a treacherous black run. Moments later their cabin is hit by an avalanche. Then members of the group start getting picked off one by one.

Their picturesque, snowy retreat morphs from a welcome escape to an oppressive prison as the temperature drops, mobile phone reception is cut off, food begins to dwindle and the mountain rescue fail to arrive. As various protagonists set off to find help, things begin to unravel.

Ware tells the story from two perspectives. There’s chalet girl Erin, whose cool, collected demeanour hides a murky past, and Liz, a former Snoop employee who never fitted in with the gang’s effortlessly cool and affluent backgrounds, yet with a small but crucial share in the company, finds herself a pawn in the takeover bid.

A novel’s resonance novel is often down to the time and place that a reader consumes it. As we all live under the omnipresent threat of lockdown, escapism to another kind of suffocating isolation and terror proves curiously uplifting.

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One By One is a galloping read packed with dark secrets and all the page-turning prowess you would hope for from a psychological thriller and murder mystery.

Even if you do have an inkling of the killer’s identity early on, the twisting plot is such that you will still be left guessing who will survive and who will meet an unfortunate end. The climax of a perilous, high-speed cat-and-mouse chase through the snow will make you gasp.