D.W. Gillespie has surprised the hell out of me with his latest novel, One by One. It’s a wonderfully written horror that takes a simple idea and manages to make it both terrifying and surprising.
The story starts out simple enough. Down on their luck, the Easton family sells their home in order to begin again in a fixer-upper against the wishes of essentially everyone BUT dad. They move in, and despite dad’s best efforts, the house just feels off to everyone else. Even our protagonist, 10 year old Alice, who’s on board with the home after an initial walkthrough, has a feeling that something isn’t quite right. Gillespie does a wonderful job setting the atmosphere. As a kid, I moved around quite often, and so I could easily picture myself in Alice’s shoes, stuck adjusting to a strange new home that just isn’t right. Alice discovers a creepy painting and before she knows it, the new residents start disappearing. The book moves steadily along, setting a tense mood and creepy atmosphere. On two different occasions, I thought I had the story figured out, only to reach the climax and find out that I was completely wrong. The book was exceptionally well written throughout and I breezed through it in one day. The mystery of the house was intriguing, and following the story as seen by a 10 year old really helped with the immersion. I loved the time I spent in the Eastons' home, and when I got to the conclusion, I was hit by another surprise, this time with Gillespie ending the book on an emotionally deep note that I just didn’t expect.
One by One, By D.W. Gillespie is one hell of a read. As Alice explores the house, you can feel how creepy it is. It’s almost like you’re right there with her. Gillespie does a wonderful job pulling you into the novel, taking you on a journey that will keep you guessing as to what is actually going on right up until the final reveal, before finally slapping you with an emotionally deep outcome that you weren’t prepared for. I finished the book in less than 24 hours and highly recommend it to anyone.
ONE BY ONE has an interesting premise that feels familiar but with a few unique twists. The Easton family gets a great bargain on a house built in the 1930s. Ten year old Alice and her teenage brother, Dean have mixed feelings about the move. Only their parents know that they got such a good deal because of a tragedy disclosure. This house has a past.
The actual summary on the back of the book gives away a lot of reader discovery so it’s this reader’s recommendation that you skip reading the synopsis. I think not knowing what happens after the family moves in would be more shocking and exciting. Unfortunately, I read it, so I was waiting for a certain thing to happen prematurely, so the first 50 pages or so was me just wanting to get to “that part”. In the meantime, I was trying to find compatibility with the characters.
I believe that one of the most effective attributes of compelling storytelling is character development. If I can’t personally invest in or relate to the people I’m reading about, the horror happening around them seems less threatening and therefore, I’m not as engaged as I could be. In the case of our family in ONE BY ONE, early on I developed a strong aversion to their dynamic. I couldn’t relate to the way they all treated each other. The brother, Dean, was unnecessarily hostile (even for a teenage boy). The parents had an odd relationship where the dad, Frank, was overly ambitious about the house to the annoyance of everyone else and the mom, Debra was sarcastic and rude in response. The only character that didn’t seem off or stereotypical to me was Alice, our protagonist. Which was good because we spend the majority of time in her head. There is a lot of “mind-chatter” or internal messaging to the reader with Alice. Sometimes this worked to further the plot and sometimes I found it to be distracting. This is one of those books that once you get about 100 pages in, you need to see it through to the end to find out what will happen. The pace of the storytelling is fast and easy to settle into; the pages really do just fly by. I don’t think Gillespie did anything new or exceptionally shocking with the haunted house trope but I will say that if you’re the kind of reader who loves tales about old houses with a sinister past and new homeowners trying to figure out all the mysteries before they all get killed--you’ll want to devour this book and have it for your collection. It’s unputdownable. I just didn’t find the characters engaging enough to be memorable so I felt like I was just watching what was happening as opposed to being involved in it emotionally. Entertaining read.
Sadie Hartmann (Mother Horror)
Sadie lives in the PNW with her husband and their 3 kids (the youngest being 14). She is the co-owner of the horror book subscription company, Night Worms and writes horror fiction reviews for SCREAM Magazine and Cemetery Dance. She is also a proud member of the HWA.
John Lynch (SteelRain Reviews)
John is a native of Cranston, Rhode Island. He served 4 years in the United States Marine Corps, deploying twice to Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a lover of all things horror, pizza and cheeseburgers. When he’s not reading or watching boxing he spends his time with his amazing wife and two beautiful sons.