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One Way (SF) - S J Morden ***(*)

If, like me, you love both SF and murder mysteries, the marketing for this book made it seem perfect. 'A murder mystery set on the frozen red wastes of Mars. Eight astronauts - one killer - No way home.' When Agatha Christie set her first ever murder mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in a country house, she knew what she was doing. Confining the murderer and potential victims in an isolated location made for a cleverly managed setting, with a limited enough set of suspects to make it practical to take on the detective at the game of whodunnit.

So, I was rather confused to discover that the book is hardly a murder mystery at all. At least not until you get to about page 265 out of 330. The main line of the story is not bad at all - it just isn't a murder mystery. This mission to Mars is to set up a base for NASA to use later. It's a private mission, and rather than expensive astronauts, prison occupants with life sentences are used. It's a clever premise and interesting to see how it works out. Each chapter begins with a little bit of back story information in the form of 'documentary' style snippets which show how what would eventually unfold originated.

In effect, it's a book of three halves (to recycle the old football joke). The first 60 odd pages are a bit dull, because it primarily only involves the isolated training of the central character, Frank Kitteredge, who is serving a whole life sentence for killing the drug dealer responsible for his son's death. With very little human interaction, it's hard to make this section very interesting. Thankfully things move up a gear once there is a chance for Kitteridge to work with the other 6 convicts and the group's minder. And the last section, once Kitteridge finally works out what's going on, switches into high energy thriller mode and works brilliantly.

I say he finally works it out as it's pretty obvious what's going on long before anyone spots it. I'd also say from a business perspective, the mise en scène documentary-style sections are very far fetched, as is the abrupt wrap up in the last couple of pages. And none of the characters ever develops much beyond a two-dimensional form.

Overall, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars given the option - the Mars setting, though not quite as well done as in The Martian, is nicely handled (with the exception of dealing with radiation, which only gets a passing mention and nothing seems to be done about it). When things finally move into top gear it's a real page turner. But far more could have been done to make it an effective murder mystery and to give it more depth.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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