Review: “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover from Goodreads, background photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

Dear Mr. Wrexham,
I know you don’t know me but please, please please you have to help me.

The Turn of the Key, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Ruth Ware
Publication Date: August 6th 2019
Publisher: Scout Press
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: self harm, sexual coercion from authority figure, drug addiction, depression, gas lighting, suicide, familicide, infidelity

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is a modern psychological thriller / haunted house blend with an approachable cast and unsettling atmosphere. Main character Rowan applies to be nanny for exceptional pay and benefits in the house of power couple architects Sandra and Bill, who have outfitted their classic Victorian mansion with all the latest smart home features. Although she is puzzled to learn of the high carer turnover Rowan accepts the challenging position with gusto. When Sandra suddenly announces she must immediately travel for work, however, Rowan finds the children combative, the house difficult to operate, and the events that unfold deeply disturbing.

The book opens dramatically in first person epistolary format as Rowan sits in a cell and pleads for a renowned lawyer to take her case. From there Ruth Ware lays out Rowan’s full version of the story to readers in natural transition. As Rowan begins to share her tale it’s immediately clear you’re approaching a modern remote haunted house story and all the question marks that come with it – is the house actually haunted or is it some combination of the creepy children, technology, and the nanny’s own mind? I found the setting quite timely with the recent proliferation of various smart technologies. Hearing the amount of smart devices and settings in the story also made me empathize with how much time it must have taken to configure it all 😛

Rowan was an easy character connect with reading her first person perspective directly. The circumstances she finds herself in are similar to the trope of a babysitter home alone hearing bumps in the night, so the experience draws you in and her reactions feel authentic. Most of the story falls into this sort of creepy atmosphere, but there was an unexpected flirtation on the side that I also enjoyed juxtaposing the darkness. The conclusion was a surprise but wraps up abruptly with minimal closure so I wasn’t a complete fan of the ending.

Overall this was a solid modern psychological thriller meets haunted house story with all the elements of paranoia and anxiety you’d expect. The inclusion of smart devices make the story feel very relevant to these times and dynamics amongst the characters were well done. The only pieces I didn’t like were the somewhat heavy hinting towards the twists and the abrupt ending. On whole I’d easily recommend this to psychological thriller readers, or someone looking forward to a haunted house story that doesn’t lean horror. An excellent creepy fall read 🍂

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