The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware (Review)

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The Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: August 6, 2019

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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.

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My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware’s fifth novel, and I won’t lie… her work has been a little hit and miss for me. I was so looking forward to her prior book, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and ended up finding a bit predictable and boring. The Turn of the Key is Ware at her very best; I couldn’t put this book down! The basic plot points (not to mention the title) suggest that the book takes heavy inspiration from The Turn of the Screw, but the story has been thoroughly modernized, and knowing the ending of the classic novella won’t give away the ending of this one. Ware will keep you guessing.

The book takes place mainly in the ancient house owned by the family that hires the protagonist, Rowan, as a nanny. The environment has the Gothic vibe typical for a Ware novel, but there’s an interesting dynamic introduced by all the upgrades the owners have made to the home, converting the old house into a smart home, with lights, cameras, and everything down to the coffee maker controlled by an app.

The contrast between the old fashioned home and all the tech creates a kind of dissonance that’s off-putting for Rowan and creates a sense of tension. It also introduces some ambiguity to the creepy situations that follow; are the flickering lights being controlled by spirits who want Rowan to leave, someone with access to the app intentionally messing with her, or just a glitch in the system?

The story itself is told in the form of a letter which Rowan writes to a solicitor from a jail cell, asking for his help. We don’t find out until late in the story what exactly has led to her arrest, but she insists on her innocence. This was the perfect format to tel this story, because it leaves the possibility of an unreliable narrator wide open. Rowan obviously has a huge vested interest in how this story was told, and I spent a lot of the book wondering how much of Rowan’s story to believe.

My main quibble with the book was probably the hint of romance in it, but I’m personally a hard sell when it comes to romances. Nothing about the story line felt particularly awful, but it just felt a bit unnecessary and shoe-horned into the book.

Overall, this was definitely one of Ware’s strongest novels. After Mrs. Westaway, I was a little hesitant about picking it up, and I’m so glad I gave it a shot!

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Review – The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway
by Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 368 Pages

Published May 29, 2018

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Blurb via GoodReads:

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the centre of it.

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Oh, I wanted to love this book. And there was plenty to love. The book was atmospheric, transporting you directly inside Mrs. Westaway’s decaying, cavernous mansion.  Hal was a very well-developed protagonist and her complicated relationship with tarot and cold reading made her really interesting to read. Hal is a psychic who doesn’t believe in her own trade; this could easily make her an unsympathetic protagonist and turn off the reader, but life has backed Hal into a corner in a way that makes it hard to blame her. I’ll spare you any details that could be considered spoilers, but suffice it to say that Hal is desperate and doing the only thing she can to stay afloat.

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This was enjoyable to read, but in the end, I felt a bit let down. The conclusion was far too heavily foreshadowed, to the point where I’d hoped the hints being dropped were red herrings, intended to distract. There were some aspects of the story which I was unable to guess, but these felt like minor details; the overall shape of the mystery became obvious before I was two thirds of the way through the book.

For a mystery novel to lack subtlety is such a fatal flaw. Ware’s writing is quite engaging, and I was enthralled to the end, but I spent that time waiting for a shocking revelation that simply never came. I have high hopes for whatever Ruth Ware’s next book turns out to be; I always have fun reading them, but I do hope she manages to surprise me next time.

Have you read The Death of Mrs. Westaway? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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