Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Book Review: One Perfect Couple

By Jami Denison

British author Ruth Ware is often compared to Agatha Christie, and her books are brilliant takes on Christie’s classic locked-door mysteries. Her latest book, One Perfect Couple, is a modern telling of Christie’s famous And Then There Were None, along with a dose of The Lord of the Flies. When five couples sail to a desert island to compete on a reality TV show, the stakes are more than roses and fame—they’re life and death.

Virus researcher Lyla has hit a dead end with her latest project—the numbers just don’t add up. When her boyfriend, struggling actor Nico, is offered an opportunity to compete on the new reality TV series One Perfect Couple, it seems like a great chance to take a break. The couples will fly to Jakarta, then take a seven-hour boat ride to a new island resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Along with Lyla and Nico, the other couples include Conor and Zana, Bayer and Angel, Dan and Santana, and Joel and Romi. The players hunker down for the duration: No phones or laptops, a game that lasts six to eight weeks.

But after the first challenge, a violent storm batters the island, leaving two people dead, others injured, the electricity off, and no way to contact the boat. As the survivors band together to salvage what’s left of the food and water, it gradually becomes clear that one of them is a danger to the rest. And then the dying starts.

One Perfect Couple unfolds at a dizzying pace, even in the early scenes setting up Lyla and Nico’s relationship and the later parts of the book when days turn into weeks. Ware’s narrative voice is perfect for suspense, and unlike many authors in the genre, she writes in the past tense, making it easier for the reader to lose herself in the prose. Lyla is the first-person narrator, and as a scientist who doesn’t watch reality TV, she’s an ideal stand-in for the reader.  

Interspersed with Lyla’s narration is the diary that Zana updates as events unfold. And Zana’s take is a lot different than Lyla’s descriptions. But her entries are so short and seem so divorced from the experience of trying to survive on a desert island that I never doubted Lyla’s account, and I wondered Ware’s purpose for including the diary. That reasoning doesn’t come clear until the end, when it plays a part in tying everything together. 

There were a few twists that I’d anticipated that did not play out. The book is a lot more straightforward than other offerings in the genre, and readers expecting to be tricked may be disappointed. By the end, though, I was happy that my predictions didn’t come to fruition. Rather than playing games with her readers, Ware is able to tell two stories: One about a group of people stranded on a desert island, and the other about toxic masculinity, the importance of trusting a fear response, and how our culture is set up to both glorify and excuse its perpetrators. This “second story” is another way in which Ware resembles Christie. Many of Dame Agatha’s murder mysteries, especially Miss Marple’s, have subtle messaging about sexism and abuse of women. 

One Perfect Couple is another home run for one of Britain’s leading crime fiction writers. Every fan of the genre should have her books in their libraries.

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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