Desert Isle Keeper
The Turn of the Key
The Turn of the Key is the fifth novel by the incomparable Ruth Ware, and it tells the story of a young woman who answers a notice for employment and finds herself travelling down a dark and progressively disturbing path. The advertisement seems too good to be true. The au pair position pays extremely well, is out of the city, comes with access to a car and includes room and board. Sending an application to Heatherbrae House describing herself as Rowan Caine; Supernanny, is the easiest decision she has ever made. Upon traveling there to interview for the job, she finds a gorgeously renovated Victorian home on isolated acres within the remote Scottish moors. The setting is beautiful and the manor a daring blend of old world opulence and charm and new world high tech. Sandra Elincourt, her possible future employer, is warm, friendly and engaging. The dogs are a bit wild but the three young girls – Maddie, Ellie and toddler Petra – seem sweet if a bit clingy towards their mum. She’s warned that teenage Rhiannon can be a bit of a handful and Maddie can have an explosive personality, but these are challenges to be expected in any child minding position. She’s delighted when she’s offered the post and only a little apprehensive about the fact that the last four nannies left under mysterious circumstances. She’s confident she belongs with the Elincourt family.
But the parents leave on a business trip before she’s been there even twenty-four hours – and that after an evening when she had to fend off a pass from head of the family, Bill. And spent half the night awake trying to figure out where the mysterious noises are coming from and why her bedroom is freezing cold. Left alone with the three little girls in the secluded setting, she can’t shake the feeling that there is something very wrong in the house. As time progresses and her discomfort grows, she wonders if her predecessors hadn’t been right after all: the best thing for an Elincourt nanny to do is to get out while they can.
AAR Reviewers Maggie and Shannon read The Turn of the Key and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Maggie: I love Ware’s eerie, gothic, atmospheric writing and was immediately drawn to this book based on my experiences with her past books. What drew you to this novel?
Shannon: The Death of Mrs. Westaway was one of my top reads of 2018, so my hopes were high for The Turn of the Key. Her stories are so captivating and spooky without being over the top in their creepiness.
Maggie: True! I have to say this book delivered one twist after another for me. We know from the back blurb that our heroine is in jail awaiting trial for the murder of one of the girls, so the initial pages where she pleads her innocence were to be expected. I wasn’t even surprised when Bill turned out to be a nanny molestor. You hear about that in the news a lot. But I was quite stunned when the parents left a total stranger with their children less than twenty-four hours after meeting her. That’s when I knew that family was going to be seriously damaged and it was a pivotal moment for what I believed throughout the rest of the story. What about you? What was the first shocking moment for you?
Shannon: I was really shocked by the amount of technology in the home. There were literally cameras everywhere, and I think I would have thought twice before agreeing to work under that amount of surveillance. Then, when the parents took off right after Rowan arrived, I knew things were about to get dicey!
Maggie: I agree. My husband loves technology but Happy, the smart home computer was one step away from the creepy robot in the movies that kills everyone.
I love unreliable narrators and that certainly applies to this heroine. What did you think of the nanny?
Shannon: Ruth Ware does unreliable narrators so well! I mean, even though it was clear Rowan was keeping some pretty big secrets from her employers, I still found myself cheering her on. She made her share of mistakes, it’s true, but her actions were perfectly in line with the way the author portrayed her. She’s flawed, but in ways that work with the story.
Maggie: I agree. After that scene with the parents I have to admit that I looked upon the girls with suspicion. No one can grow up in the atmosphere they are clearly being raised in and not have issues. What did you think of the girls?
Shannon: I’m not much of a kid person in real life, and I think this often impacts the way I view child characters in fiction. Petra was pretty cute, but then, that’s pretty much what you’d expect from a toddler. The older three were far more complex, but I think Ellie was my favorite. She seemed to be sweet and impressionable, liking Rowan but still wanting to appear loyal to her older sisters. She was pretty perceptive for a five-year-old too, and I liked some of her exchanges with Rowan.
Maggie: I liked and felt sorry for all of them by the end, but I worried for them, too. I had my doubts that their future would involve anything but an adulthood in therapy.
I adored the way the author handled the setting. The creepy cameras everywhere, and the almost malignant smart home really emphasized just how dangerous a situation everyone is in.
Shannon: I have a huge soft spot for creepy old houses, especially when they’re located out in the country. Then, you add in all the tech stuff, and you get a setting that feels almost like a character in its own right. I found myself wondering what tragedies that old house had witnessed.
Maggie: The book delivers a lot of information at the end, some of which I had already guessed and some that came as a shock. I did feel the author left too many loose threads, though. What did you think?
Shannon: I’m not always a fan of ambiguous endings, but this one actually worked really well for me. We’re left with a few questions, but I think the author dropped several hints throughout the story that helped satisfy my need for things to be tied up neatly. Neat and tidy endings have their place, but I’m happy with the way Ms. Ware chose to end this particular story.
Maggie: Overall this story is a B+ for me. It grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let go, but I was deeply dissatisfied with the ending and the issues that were left unresolved. What did you think?
Shannon: It gets a solid A from me. It’s darkly atmospheric, perfect for curling up with on a stormy night, and I absolutely could not put it down once I started reading. It delivered pretty much everything I want in a thriller.