Book Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Dear Mr Wrexham,

You have no idea how many times I’ve started this letter and screwed up the resulting mess, but I’ve realised there is no magic formula here. There is no way I can make you listen to my case. So I’m just going to have to do my best to set things out. However long it takes, however much I mess this up, I’m just going to keep going, and tell the truth.
        My name is… And here I stop, wanting to tear up the page again.
        Because if I tell you my name, you will know why I am writing to you. My case has been all over the papers, my name in every headline, my agonised face staring out of every front page and every single article insinuating my guilt in a way that falls only just short of contempt of court. If I tell you my name, I have a horrible feeling you might write me off as a lost cause, and throw my letter away. I wouldn’t entirely blame you, but please – before you do that, hear me out.

If you’ve been following me on my BookTube channel, you’ll know that 2019 has been the year where I’ve discovered my love of mystery/thrillers. From Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs to Dwayne Alexander Smith’s 40 acres to Riley Sager’s Final Girls, I’ve tried an exponential number of mysteries/thrillers compared to years prior. I’ve also started grad school recently, and I’ve felt very sleep deprived even if it is only two weeks into the program. Why am I sharing this? Well, at work one day I wanted to force myself to focus through adrenaline and went on the hunt for a thriller to listen to. I quickly came across The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and narrated by Imogen Church. I had heard of Ruth Ware’s 2016 release The Women in Cabin 13 , but I haven’t read it yet. Her newest novel, The Turn of the Key, opens with a letter from our protagonist, Rowan Caine, to a solicitor (lawyer) called Mr. Wrexham. We quickly learn that Rowan has been imprisoned for a crime. We don’t know what the crime is, but it is linked to the Heatherbrae House where she once was a nanny for the Elincourt family. Rowan explains how she came to respond to a news advert and to interview with the Sandra Elincourt in the Elincourt’s Scottish highland estate. The Elincourt’s generous offer (£55,000 a year for a live-in nanny with all daily expenses covered) helps Rowan overlook aspects of the Elincourt’s home like the doors that don’t have locks, cameras placed in every room, technology trickled into every aspect of their life. When Rowan questions Sandra why the Victorian estate has been transformed into a smart house, Sandra states that, since she and her husband, Bill, are architects, they must say up to date with the modern trends. Coming from the blusterous London setting where she works for a corporate day care, Little Nippers, it is an offer that Rowan can’t resist. Once Rowan accepts the position as a nanny to Petra (18 months), Maddie (8 years), and Ellie (5 years), Sandra immediately leaves to go on a business trip. The Elincourt’s also have a 14-year-old daughter, Rhiannon, who goes to boarding school during the work week. Very early on, Rowan notices that multiple nannies have came and went at the Elincourt estate. This, paired with the odd sounds and technological glitches, makes for a very eerie and jarring setting. The setting is also very disjointed with the Victorian architecture blended with the modern technology of the house. Gene McKenzie, the housekeeper, and Jack Grant, the groundskeeper, are the only ones that Rowan sees regularly. After her first night there, Rowen begins to experience strange, unexplainable events: YouTube videos playing through the house’s intercom, light controls not functioning properly, pacing in the middle of the night. The Turn of the Key managed to keep me on the edge of my seat without feeling rushed. I didn’t see the ending and was complete taken by surprise. I think that the plot twist is aided by how Ware’s ability to make the protagonist seem unreliable. Not only with the fact that Rowan is in prison, but that she is only giving us an explanation of what happened at Heatherbrae house and doesn’t share any information from her past. I also found the way that Ware wrote the children felt very realistic. The Turn of the Key is a retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but I have unfortunately not read that novel yet. I’m interested to reading the original and better understanding how it has influenced Ware’s version. Overall, I gave this novel 4/5 stars and will be listening to more of Ruth Ware in the future. 

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