The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

By Ekta R. Garg

August 7, 2019

Genre: Thriller

Release date: August 6, 2019

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A nanny discovers she got much more than she anticipated in what sounded like the “perfect” job. Between creepy elements in the house and children who won’t listen, the young woman fights her growing anxiety and paranoia until she finds herself in prison. Except she says she’s innocent. Author Ruth Ware offers readers her latest thriller in the mostly successful novel The Turn of the Key.

When Rowan Caine answers the ad to become a live-in nanny for a family in the Scottish Highlands, she has no idea she’ll end up in prison accused of murdering one of her charges. Yet here she sits writing to a lawyer, hoping he’ll take her case. She wasn’t the perfect nanny by a far stretch, but Rowan didn’t kill the child and she needs someone who will listen to her story and help her figure out who did.

She’d answered the ad after getting fed up with her employment in a London nursery. Moving to Scotland from a busy city seemed like the perfect life change, and her meeting with her employer, Sandra Elincourt, sealed the deal for Rowan. She wanted more than ever to live in Heatherbrae, the renovated Victorian smart home that did everything anyone needed with the swipe of a screen. Almost overnight Sandra left Rowan with a toddler and two elementary-aged children to join her husband, Bill, on a business trip.

The learning curve for Rowan was steep: dealing with the temperamental smart home app, the temperamental children, and the temperamental housekeeper who clearly disapproved of her. Stories of the home being haunted by its former inhabitants didn’t help, although the mysterious handyman Jack Grant provided Rowan with a distraction. All of Rowan’s instincts told her that something was off about the situation, but she would never have imagined the circumstances leading to the death of one of the children under her care.

Rowan knows she’s not blameless. She lied to get the job, and she’s held things back from her employers. Yet insists she’s innocent of the murder, and she’s hoping the lawyer will understand her position after hearing her story. She doesn’t want to die for someone else’s crime, and despite the tough time she had dealing with the kids she can’t stand the thought of the unnecessary loss of such a young life.

Author Ruth Ware takes her time building the suspense, which may force readers to reevaluate what they think they might know about standard thrillers. At face value, the novel seems to be a “begin-at-the-end” kind of book with the protagonist leading readers through the “how” and “why.” Yet two shocking revelations at the end of the novel—one spelled out, one implied—will make readers pause and rethink what they’ve read.

The result is an ending that could be too subtle. The killer is revealed point blank, but another part of the story might escape notice. Some readers may not understand Ware’s aim in the closing pages, resulting in confusion or the assumption that she took the easy way out. Some of Rowan’s choices regarding the smart home or the outrageous behavior of the oldest child under her care might make readers wonder about her capability for the job. This point gets explained later in the book, but some readers might miss it due to Ware’s aim for subtlety.

Ware excels in revealing tidbits of information along the way, and here, too, she drops breadcrumbs for her readers to follow. Some of them lead to the most unexpected places. Others won’t reveal anything too startling. The end seems to want to convey the final surprise, but the framing of the story might make some readers miss that last shocking piece of information altogether.

Diehard Ruth Ware fans will enjoy this one. Those new to her work might do better starting with a different book. I recommend readers Borrow The Turn of the Key from their local libraries.