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The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Can you tell I’m on a Ruth Ware kick?

The first Ruth Ware novel I read was The Death of Mrs. Westaway, then In a Dark, Dark Wood, followed by The Woman in Cabin 10, and finally The Turn of the Key.

Ware’s books present just the right amount of description without being mundane, and nowhere is that as important as it is in The Turn of the Key. If too many details are revealed, the jig is up. Coupled with the dialogues, the overall feelings of helplessness yet utter determination are intoxicating.

The Turn of the Key tells the story of Rowan, new live-in nanny to three young children. Right in the beginning of her post – literally the second day she is there – the parents, Sandra and Bill, leave town for work. When Bill is pulled away to Dubai, Sandra cannot return as early as she originally planned.

Rowan befriends the maintenance man, Jack; meanwhile the housekeeper, Jean, is quite unpleasant towards her, adding to her distress in the house.

An interesting aspect of The Turn of the Key is that the entire thing is written as letters from our main character, who is in jail awaiting trial for the murder of one of the children, to someone she hopes will be her defense attorney.

She hopes that by revealing the truth to him, she will be absolved of guilt in at least the eyes of the law, for she will never be free of the blood that is on her hands.

In her letters, she reveals that previous nannies hired by the family didn’t stay long, possibly succumbing to stories of hauntings or worse. The murderer of an 11-year-old girl died at the home in the 70s had never been brought to light; it’s possible it was a genuine accident. Throughout, our letter-writer maintains her innocence even as she sympathizes with the girl’s nanny, who quit a couple months before the incident.

What future was there for a nanny whose child had died in her care, after all? A very bleak one indeed.

As the letters progress, we learn more about the inner workings of the house – which is described as an unfortunate (and not eclectic) mix of traditional architecture and modern smart home.

There was a strange feeling of split identity too – as though the house was trying hard to be one thing, while Sandra and Bill pulled it relentlessly in the other direction, chopping off limbs, performing open-heart surgery on its dignified old bones, trying to make it into something against its own will – something it was never meant to be, modern and stylish and slick, where it wanted to be solid and self-effacing.

Sandra and Bill own an architecture company together. We read a mention of vernacular architecture, which utilizes materials from the area of construction in the building. It isn’t necessarily important to the plot as far as I can tell, but the design of the house is.

While Rowan does not have access to all the features of the smart home app, her physical realm is only limited by one locked door – and it’s in her bedroom.

After a couple nights, she can no longer bear the creaking footsteps coming from above her at night. She enlists Jack to help open the door, and although they don’t discover a secret stowaway in the attic, what they do find is a burden in itself: gruesome writing on the walls, a dead bird, and old children’s toys.

There was something… not quite powerful, but at least an illusion of control in holding the key in my own hands. That door was locked. And only I had the power to unlock it.

Will the truth be enough to set her free? You’ll have to see for yourself.

While reading, I was reminded of The Haunting of Hill House (haunted house, writing on the walls) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (nanny watches over creepy children and falls for maintenance person/groundskeeper/etc). These spooky things are quickly becoming my creature comforts.

Learn more about Ruth Ware at her website!

Until next time, friends


With micro-bites of discourse, Oak & River Books goes beyond a ratings system.

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