A Suspenseful Humdinger

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

My daughter borrowed this book from the library. I wasn’t going to read it because the last book I read by Ruth Ware, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, didn’t knock my socks off the way I hoped it would (which is not to say it was a bad book–to the contrary, I gave it four stars–but I had hoped for more).

But, long story short and as you’ve no doubt already guessed, I decided to read The Turn of they Key. And boy, am I glad I did.

Here’s a quick summary: Rowan Caine accepts a dream job as a live-in nanny at an isolated house deep in the Highlands of Scotland. The owners, a husband and wife team of architects, are desperate for a nanny who can start work as soon as possible. They have four daughters, three of whom are very young and live in the house, and one who only comes home from boarding school on breaks. Each of the girls presents her own particular set of challenges, and these are all made worse by the atmosphere of the “smart” house, which is outfitted with a complicated and highly invasive security system, lighting system, sound system, and every other system you can think of.

It is obvious early on that Rowan is hiding something. Likewise, it becomes clear that she’s not the only one harboring secrets. What made the four previous nannies abandon the position in the past year alone (one even leaving behind her belongings in her haste to get out), and why is there a malevolence in the house directed squarely at Rowan?

And, most importantly, why is Rowan in prison for the murder of one of the children?

This book is more of a modern-day Gothic than The Death of Mrs. Westaway. The house itself plays a huge role in the story. I read some passages with bated breath and others with a strong feeling of sympathy for the trials Rowan is experiencing at the hands of her new family. From sounds blaring out of the stereo system in the middle of the night to lights being on where Rowan knows she shut them off, to an extremely creepy garden on the property, the whole atmosphere of the story is one of dread and uneasy apprehension.

There are also red herrings aplenty, which I love in a mystery. Because Rowan has no idea where the hostility is coming from, (almost) everyone is a suspect. And the ending took me completely by surprise, which I also love. I feel like I should have seen it coming, which makes for fair play in a book like this one, and that made me enjoy it all the more.

The one thing I felt was a little off was the way in which the narrative is presented—that is, in the form of a letter (a very, very long letter) to a lawyer (barrister in the UK), begging him to take her case. As the reader learns almost immediately, Rowan is writing the letter from inside a women’s penitentiary. The letter format, I think, works best at the very end of the book, where the reader finds several letters written by other people that bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good Gothic mystery tinged with more than a hint of psychological suspense.