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
Also by this author: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
four-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on August 6, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
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THE TURN OF THE KEY Review

 

“Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”

 

As soon as I read that line, I knew that Ruth Ware’s latest novel, The Turn of the Key, was exactly the kind of creepy, spooky read I was looking for.  The novel follows former nanny and current prison inmate, Rowan Caine. Rowan has been charged with murdering one of the children she was supposed to be taking care of and is in prison awaiting her trial.  When the novel opens, we are presented with a letter she is writing to an attorney, in hopes of persuading him to take her case. The story of what has happened to land Rowan in prison then unfolds through the pages of her letter.

I loved the way Ware uses this letter to frame the entire story because it immediately sets Rowan up as an unreliable narrator. She’s desperately trying to plead her case to this attorney so of course she’s going to try to paint herself as innocently as possible. Rowan comes off as convincing overall though, describing several times throughout her letter how she was, at times, a flat-out terrible nanny.  I found her flawed yet mostly believable so she captured my sympathy pretty easily and made me want to find out what really happened.

So, what really did happen?  I don’t want to give anything away since this is a thriller so I’m just going to talk about the setup a bit, which I thought was fantastic. Rowan is job hunting and comes across an ad for a live-in nanny at a home in the gorgeous Scottish Highlands. The salary is surprisingly high and everything about the job sounds perfect, almost too good to be true.  Rowan interviews for the position and meets the children she’ll be taking care of and it’s one of the children who tells her “Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”  While this doesn’t exactly give Rowan warm fuzzies, she takes the job anyway.  And of course, in true thriller fashion, finds out almost immediately that it is, in fact, too good to be true and every nanny that has worked there before her has abruptly quit and moved out.  The question is why and how do we get from that point all the way to the point where Rowan is in jail accused of murdering a child and all I’m going to say is that it’s a nightmare for Rowan and one heck of a ride for the reader!

What really hooked me on this story though is how atmospheric it is.  Ware is a master of creating these creepy, sinister, almost Gothic settings and that’s the vibe that the house and its surrounding grounds have. There’s even a forbidden garden on the property that is filled with poisonous plants.  The owners tell Rowan that it belonged to the previous owners, but for goodness sakes, as parents with small children, wouldn’t you think they would have that ripped up and removed for safety reasons?  Needless to say, I was not a big fan of the parents in this book.

In an interesting twist, Ware cleverly offsets the creepy Gothic vibe of the house and grounds by making the house a “smart” house with all of the latest technological advances.  The current owners are architects so it’s their “smart” design and they have the whole house set up and controlled by an app called Happy.  Even when they’re out of town, the parents can pop in unannounced via speaker and they also have numerous cameras set up throughout the house so that they can see anything at any time.  Imagine Alexa only creepier because of what it can do and how easy it is to invade someone’s privacy.  It’s also pretty glitchy so unexpected things happen frequently, which gives Rowan the feeling that the house and Happy are out to get her as soon as the parents go out of town and she is left to fend for herself.

When things really start to go bump in the night is where Ware really excels in The Turn of the Key. She had me on the edge of my seat as Rowan is initially terrified by what she keeps hearing in the house and then ultimately furious about it and determined to get to the bottom of it.  There are twists and turns galore and enough suspense that it had me reading late into the night and then imagining that I was hearing similar sounds in my own home.  The pacing is perfect too, especially if you’re looking for a quick read.  I devoured The Turn of the Key in just a couple of sittings.

This is the third novel I’ve read from Ruth Ware and while it wasn’t my favorite – that honor still goes to In a Dark, Dark Wood – it’s a very close second.  If you’re in the mood for a creepy read with lots of twists and turns, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key is a must-read!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10The 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.

four-stars

Review: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

Review:  THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAYThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Also by this author: The Turn of the Key
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on May 29, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Even though I’m typically a huge fan of suspenseful thrillers, for some reason I had not gotten around to trying one of Ruth Ware’s popular novels yet. I don’t really have any real excuse other than I sometimes tend to shy away from hyped books and this was one of those cases, especially since I’ve seen Ware referred to as the Agatha Christie of our time and that seems like a pretty tall order for any author to try to live up to.  The synopsis of The Death of Mrs. Westaway captivated me, however, and I decided it was past time for me to try my first Ruth Ware novel.  How did it work out?  I’d say the fact that I’ve ordered copies of all of Ware’s novels since finishing this one is a pretty good indicator of how it went.  While I might not go so far as to call her the Agatha Christie of our day, Ruth Ware is a superb mystery author in her own right.

 

Sympathetic Protagonist:  Harriet Westaway (or Hal as she is more often referred to) is a character that tugged on my heartstrings from the first pages of the novel.  She is a 21-year-old tarot card reader who works on a pier in Brighton, England.  Hal fell into this line of work a few years earlier when her mother, also a tarot card reader, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident.  The driver was never caught and so Hal was forced to drop out of school and take up her mother’s work in order to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  There’s no father and no other family in the picture so Hal is all alone in the world and is struggling to make ends meet.  When we meet Hal, she is up to her neck in trouble, having borrowed some money from a sleazy loan shark who keeps changing the terms of her repayment and has sent his goons to deliver a message to her, that message being threat of bodily harm or even worse if she doesn’t cough up 3,000 pounds, which she clearly doesn’t have.

Although Hal is a sympathetic character, she’s still pretty savvy and street smart, which is another thing I liked about her, as well as the fact that she also has a bit of a morally gray element that adds even more interesting layers to her personality.  When a letter from an attorney’s office arrives in the mail telling Hal she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a Mrs. Westaway who has just passed away, Hal knows it can’t possibly be her, as she has no family.  That said, however, she can’t help but wonder if her ability to read people – so finely honed by years of reading tarot cards and telling fortunes – is sharp enough for her to fool people so that she really can claim the aforementioned inheritance.  Yes, there’s a risk she could go to jail for fraud, but if she can pull it off, it’s the answer to all of her prayers.  That in itself makes it a risk worth taking.  It’s so wrong of course, but I just couldn’t help but admire her guts and determination.

Atmospheric Quality: In addition to the wonderfully well-rounded character that is Hal, my other favorite part of the book is the atmosphere that Ware has created. Everything about the atmosphere has an air of suspense to it but it takes a turn for the creepy and Gothic once Hal arrives at the residence of the late Mrs. Westaway.  The house itself is dusty and ill-maintained, some of the windows are barred, It’s filled with endless dark corridors and stairways, and to top it off, there’s a mean old housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, that Hal seems to find lurking around every corner.  Everything about the house just had this ominous feel to it and had me wanting to yell at Hal to get out while she could.

Family Secrets – Web of Lies:  If you’re into books that focus on messy families and their dirty little secrets, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the book for you! As soon as Hal arrives and hears the will reading, she can tell that something is amiss with the Westaway family and that she has landed herself right in the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Nothing is as it seems and although she knows she should just cut and run before she ends up in potentially deeper trouble than she already is, she feels compelled to find out the truth about the family and whatever it is they appear to be hiding.  Ware does a marvelous job with the pacing of the novel and I remained enthralled as I waited for each strand of the web of lies to unravel.

 

I don’t really have anything at all here. It was a phenomenal read that I couldn’t put down once I started reading.

 

While this was my first time reading Ruth Ware, it will definitely not be my last.  I’d recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway to anyone who is a fan of mysteries and thrillers as well as to anyone who enjoys a good domestic drama.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

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

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 center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-half-stars