Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Gallery/Scout Press: 8/6/19
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501188770

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is a highly recommended psychological thriller with Gothic overtones.

Rowan Caine is hired for an unbelievably generous salary by a wealthy couple to be a live-in nanny for their children at their estate, Heatherbrae House, in the Scottish Highlands. The house has been remodeled and wired to be a smart home, where everything - lights, music, grocery lists, coffee maker, phones, cameras in rooms, and more - are all controlled by technology called "Happy." The three young girls who will mostly be in her charge seem sweet and the teenage daughter is away at school, so when Rowan learns she is in charge and being left alone with the girls in the house as soon as she arrives with only the handyman, Jack Grant, around, she thinks she can handle it. But all is not as it seems.

The narrative is told through a letter to a solicitor from a Rowan who is in prison awaiting trial for murder for the death of a child in her charge. Rowan wants to tell her side of the story, a story that wasn't listened to by her solicitor. Caring for these children is much more trying than she thought it would be. The baby is a handful, and the other two girls, eight and five, are hardly the sweet children she met at the interview. She heard that the house is believed to be haunted, but she doesn't believe in ghosts. However, Rowan is hearing footsteps at night and then there is the malfunctioning technology doing things like blaring music at night and operating lights at will.

This is an atmospheric psychological thriller that has a Gothic feel but combines it with creepy cutting edge technology in an isolated location. There is a feeling of unease and tension that is created right at the start and then both increase incrementally as the novel progresses. You know Rowan is in prison, but you don't know who dies and what happened. There are little clues, but they are carefully embedded in the narrative. You get the sense that Rowan might be an unreliable narrator, but you aren't sure. The ending was a big surprise for me, but it was satisfying and answered all my questions.

The characters are well developed, but bits and pieces are held back with good reason as Rowan tells her story in her own way, only revealing what she wants us to know, when she wants to tell us. This style helps increase the atmospheric creepiness factor. The other characters are all viewed through Rowan's point-of-view. Even the house and grounds become a character. Rowan may not be a likeable character, but she is believable in her thoughts and reactions.

The writing is quite good and I liked the way the plot unfolded and the story played out, carefully and incrementally. I was surprised that one of the huge plot twists which surprised me was withheld until the end. It seemed that it would be the first thing you'd want to tell a lawyer when you were awaiting trial for murder. Another final shocker, though, explained why. All in all, though, this was a very good thriller and I am going to look into more novels by Ruth Ware. 4.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press.

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