The book is presented mostly in the present tense by main character Claire, but there are intervals written in third-person from someone simply titled “Anonymous” recapping their own childhood. This was a pleasant distraction from the rather one-dimensional locale of lush forest and dense trees. These accounts from Claire and “Anonymous” were destined to collide by the book's end, but the mystery is how the two characters are related and the inevitable word journey.
Claire (teacher) and her husband Noah (physicist) are in the slumber of a failing marriage, so the two decide to embark on a short vacation to a cozy inn nestled in the northern Colorado wilderness. They are accompanied by Claire's best friend Lindsey (can't remember!) and her new boyfriend Warner (surgeon), as well as Noah's best friend Jack (handyman) and his wife Michelle (attorney). It's a diverse group made up of various professions that may or may not play a hand in the book's plot.
Like most outings in the forest, car trouble and lack of cell phone coverage invite murder and mayhem. As Jack attempts to lead the group through the forest, hoping to find the inn, they immediately become lost, cold, and hungry with water diminishing. The first member of the group dies from poisoning, then another from an apparent animal attack. One disappears completely. Three members are left when they locate a small cabin full of supplies. But, the cabin's owner is dead. What in the actual Hell is happening here?
I've watched plenty of VHS horror, and read my fair share of Paperbacks from Hell, so the premise of One by One wasn't that original. Thankfully, McFadden focuses on character development to build her plot and enhance the story. She has a unique way of telling a great story through dialogue and character interaction. It isn't what's on page, but what's hidden from the reader that is so important. McFadden doesn't provide enough clues to really hone in on the murderer, but she kept me guessing until the very end.
If you enjoy the “weeding out the weak” survival novels, or just a “who's the murderer within our ranks” story, then One by One is an easy recommendation. I devoured it in one sitting and not only discovered a great book, but a fantastic author. At the time of this writing, I'm on the waiting list for her newest novel, Ward D, which promises more mystery, murder, and...terrible cell phone service.