Book review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Sunday, September 15, 2019 Permalink

Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood was met with much adoration and acclaim. I still haven’t read it but leapt at the chance to read her second novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, and was – I must admit – a tad disappointed.

The premise of her latest, The Turn of the Key, sounded interesting however, though I was a little worried when there was talk of ghosts and haunted houses as I’m not a fan of the fantasy genre, however this didn’t really go in that direction and was sufficiently gripping that I easily read it in a sitting.

Book review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth WareThe Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware
Published by Harvill Secker
on August 8th 2019
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1787300447
Pages: 352

When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan 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 her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

When we meet Rowan she’s in jail, accused of murder. She’s writing to a barrister she believes can help her. So her story unfolds from her point of view and is all told in retrospect.

It’s obvious Rowan has her secrets. She basically tells us she hasn’t been completely honest but she is believable when she claims she didn’t kill a child in her care. I have to admit I found the whole ‘overly paid nanny position – MOST of which was paid on completion of the one year contract’ just a little too good to be true. And though Rowan’s a tad suspicious, the lure of the dollar (well, pound) AND the fact she falls in love with the house she’ll be living in (and her perception of the family in it) means she doesn’t think twice.

There’s a sense of mystery about Rowan’s past and it’s intimated that her story is not-entirely-truthful. So, as a narrator, she’s not entirely reliable. Of course unreliable narrators aren’t a new thing and I enjoyed the sense of trepidation Ware brings to this story through Rowan’s backstory (or lack of it).

There’s a lot happening here… a slightly lecherous and seemingly absent father. A mother who seems to love her children but leaves them with Rowan (essentially a stranger) a day after her arrival. A housekeeper who’s kinda nasty and belligerent (though obviously loves the children) and a seemingly overqualified odd-job man whose job description is nebulous.

There are three children in Rowan’s care – baby Petra, as well as 5yr old Ellie and 8yr old Maddie. And later, 14 yr old Rhiannon arrives home from boarding school – a teenager with an attitude and even less interested in giving Rowan a chance than Maddie seems to be.

Given that we know some terrible fate has befallen one of the children there’s a sense of doom… a sinister undercurrent. The kids are adamant the house is haunted and Rowan’s intrigued and slightly freaked-out by tales of suspicious deaths that have taken place in the house; and by things happening now that make no sense. She can certainly see why her predecessors have come and gone in such quick succession.

Ware deftly sets up a sense of menace and suspicion. Rowan isn’t entirely likeable and it’s not just that she’s obviously got her secrets, but she’s probably not as kind-hearted or earnest as you’d normally like your protagonist to be. However, it’s probably better to offer a flawed lead, rather than a too-good-to-be-true heroine. Indeed, Rowan tells us she’s trying to give her new boss, Mrs Elincourt, a portrayal of the ‘perfect nanny’.

The direction of the book isn’t entirely obvious even though we know what ultimately happens, and there’s a twist that certainly surprised me. And then, another twist – or two at the very end. And very sad ones. I spoke to someone who’d read this book and we felt the end was a tad confusing – open ended in the sense we don’t know what happened. I later thought I’d worked it out but am still not entirely sure.

This was still a good read however. We get closure, but we don’t. Which won’t make sense unless you’ve read the book… but for me I’ve decided that it’s about redemption and ultimately doing the right thing and people getting what’s coming to them. Etcetera.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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