The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware doesn’t write the sort of books I usually choose to read these days, but something drew me to her latest one, The Turn of the Key, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it courtesy of The Pigeonhole (a website/app which makes new novels available in daily instalments). I’m sure I will be looking for more of Ruth Ware’s books; they would be perfect to put on my list for this year’s RIP Challenge, which I’m hoping will be announced soon.

The novel opens with our narrator, Rowan Caine, in prison awaiting trial for murder. We don’t know exactly what happened, except that a child died while in her care and that suspicion fell on Rowan as the killer. With no one else to turn to for help, Rowan begins to write a letter to her lawyer, Mr Wrexham, in an attempt to explain the sequence of events that led to her imprisonment.

It all starts with a job offer which seems too good to be true: the position of live-in nanny for a rich family based in the Scottish Highlands, caring for four children in return for an unbelievably huge salary. However, it’s not just the money that attracts Rowan…although she doesn’t tell us, or Mr Wrexham, her other reason for applying for the job until much later in the book. In fact, it quickly becomes obvious that Rowan is telling lies about a lot of things; if you enjoy books with unreliable narrators this is definitely the book for you!

Rowan is not the only one with secrets, though, and when she arrives at her new place of work, Heatherbrae House, she becomes aware of some of the mysteries lurking behind its luxurious exterior. Why have the Elincourt children had so many nannies in such a short period of time, some of them lasting no more than a day? What are the eerie sounds Rowan hears during the night? Is Heatherbrae House haunted?

The Turn of the Key, as the title would suggest, draws inspiration from the classic Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw (which I have to confess I still haven’t read, although I know what it’s about) but Ruth Ware updates the story into a very modern setting. Life at Heatherbrae House is controlled almost entirely by smart technology with cameras in nearly every room and apps to operate lights, heating, showers and music. The sense that Rowan is under constant surveillance with no idea who could be watching her every move creates a sinister and claustrophobic atmosphere which combines with the more traditional gothic elements such as the unexplained noises and other ghostly happenings to make this quite a spooky read.

There were just one or two things that bothered me. First, I thought there were several plot points that felt unconvincing and too convenient; for example, I found it a bit unbelievable that the Elincourts would leave for a week-long conference the day after Rowan’s arrival, leaving the children, including a baby, with someone they had only just met. Also, I felt that in the age of the internet and Google some of the novel’s mysteries could have been solved by the characters much more quickly and needn’t really have been mysteries at all. And then, some of the revelations that came in the final chapters of the book had seemed quite obvious to me and I had already guessed the truth well in advance. Not the ending, though – I hadn’t seen that coming!

I’m looking forward to my next Ruth Ware novel, whichever that turns out to be. I like the sound of The Death of Mrs Westaway and The Woman in Cabin 10, so I think it will probably be one of those.

20 thoughts on “The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

    • Helen says:

      I have read two or three books via The Pigeonhole and I think the format works well. It certainly added to my enjoyment of this one. I hope you enjoy whichever Ruth Ware book you read first.

  1. FictionFan says:

    I’ll be starting this one later today so have just skimmed your review. I’m delighted you enjoyed it and can thoroughly recommend The Death of Mrs Westaway too. I’ve still to read her earlier books – something to look forward to!

  2. BookerTalk says:

    Technology has presented authors with many new challenges in terms of their plots. Hard to come up with mysteries when so much info is available at a click of a few keys

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it must make it quite difficult. I do prefer older mysteries where the only methods of crime-solving are searching for clues, speaking to witnesses and making observations – no Google or Facebook involved!

  3. thequietgeordie says:

    I’ve read all of Ruth Ware’s earlier novels and I prefer The Woman in Cabin 10 over The Death of Mrs Westaway!

  4. Calmgrove says:

    Interesting, your point about the parents leaving soon after the nanny’s appointment: that’s exactly what happens in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and which doesn’t ring true to life, but of course it has the same effect — to ramp up the suspense!

    • Helen says:

      I just couldn’t believe that the mother in this book was portrayed as such a concerned, conscientious parent that she even produced an instruction manual for the nannies – and then went and left her children with a complete stranger. As you say, though, it increases the suspense!

  5. Lark says:

    Ware’s books are hit or miss for me, so I’m glad to know this one’s more hit than miss.
    I really liked The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I had some issues with The Woman in Cabin 10 (mostly because I guessed really early on the whole plot twist).

    • Helen says:

      I am looking forward to reading both The Death of Mrs Westaway and The Woman in Cabin 10. It does sometimes spoil your enjoyment of a book if you guess the plot twist too early, though.

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