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Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth WareThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on August 6, 2019
Pages: 337
Format: Hardcover

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.
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.

I had a love-hate relationship with Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway. It took over 75% of the book to really get good, but once it got there it really got there. I had a good feeling about The Turn of the Key, though, so I gave it a shot as my August Book of the Month book because I have a weakness for creepy kids in literature, and I am super glad I did.


How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

This truly was the summer of books with the theme of “impoverished young women making questionable decisions to get money.” This included not just Lock Every Door, but also The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and now The Turn of the Key. Our poor young heroine this time is Rowan, and she is not having a very good time right now. You see, this book is written in epistolary format from Rowan to her lawyer. Why is she writing to a lawyer, you might ask. I thought she was working as a nanny? Well, friends, it’s because she allegedly murdered one of those children and is now desperately trying to be absolved of her crime. Oops?

Rowan has the opportunity of a lifetime to nanny for the Elincourt family – an unfairly wealthy family living in the remote Scottish moors, where they are away for work quite often and have run through a series of nannies in an effort to find one worth sticking around. We meet the matriarch – Sandra, a nice enough woman who is busier than anything – and the patriarch, Bill, who is skeezy and gross. We also meet their four delightful (not really …) daughters, ranging from an eighteen month old to their rebellious fourteen year old “Jesus take the wheel” lying alcoholic. It’s … not going well for Rowan, and she has her hands full when Sandra and Bill unceremoniously leave her with the girls almost immediately upon her arrival after being hired.

The estate – Heatherbrae House – is its own character, really. It is old and gothic, but gutted and filled with every smart home feature you can possibly imagine. If I learned anything from the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House, it is that letting an AI run your home will lead to it trying to murder you in the wake of your mother’s death. This really doesn’t go much better for Rowan.

10 year old me is quaking.

Anyway, Rowan’s bedroom is on the top floor. So when she hears footsteps pacing back and forth all night, she’s a little disturbed. Add to that some creepy smart house instances that really shouldn’t have happened, the girls all in various stages of dislike for her and her ability to be their caretaker, and what you end up with is a creepy gothic mansion full of nothing but angry children and an impossible to figure out AI, a gardener who may or may not be a love interest, and a young woman who is so stressed out about the fact that her things keep going missing that she fears she’s losing her sanity.

The Bottom Line

While Ruth Ware’s books might be slow burns, this one really did not read like one. I flew through The Turn of the Key and was shocked (and slightly angered) at the ending because I really didn’t see it coming. It kicked me in the heart like it should have, and best of all there was no big red bow ending! Ruth Ware is amazing at writing a truly timeless book, where it could have been written now, 5 years ago, 10 years from now … it’s anyone’s guess.

If you like stories of young twentysomething women stressed and impoverished, if you like creepy kids and severed doll heads and missing keys and poison plants, you’ll love this book. Be forewarned though, it might lead to you desperately considering chucking your Alexa devices into the nearest trash can.

“I didn’t kill that child. Which means someone else did. And they are out there. While I’m in here, rotting.”

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