S.J. Morden’s novel One Way is a murder mystery, but the main character isn’t a police officer or a private detective. He is, in fact, on the other side of the law entirely. Frank Kittridge is serving a life sentence for murdering the man who was selling drugs to his son when he’s offered a unique opportunity: the chance to help build a base on Mars. All but one of his fellow team members are also convicts, each possessing a high degree of skill in a field that will be needed to set up the base successfully. But it’s a dangerous endeavor, and Frank begins to suspect that not all of the casualties suffered by the team are accidents.
Morden has a background in geology, and his expertise in the physical sciences shows in the details of the setting. As Andy Weir did in The Martian, he makes the reader feel the peculiarities of the Martian landscape. He pays attention to things we don’t notice in our everyday lives, but that would quickly become disorienting in such an alien environment. For example, at one point Kittridge is weirded out by the way a female character’s ponytail moves—this is of course caused by Mars’s lower gravity, but it feels eerie because it’s not what his eyes and brain expect.
Most of the major characters have committed serious crimes, but Morden does a good job of making them reasonably sympathetic. I did genuinely feel bad for the deaths that occurred over the course of the novel and hoped that Kittridge would uncover the identity of the murderer. The mystery aspect is also well done, with there being plausible motivations for several different suspects.
At first, the pace of the story seems to be fairly slow, focusing on the group’s training in preparation for their mission. However, this introductory section lays the groundwork for what comes later, both in terms of characterization and familiarizing the reader with the setup of the base and the resources the characters will have access to. Once the team gets to Mars, the pace speeds up and it becomes a fairly quick read.