This was my first Ruth Ware novel, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Turn of the Key is a fascinating combination of a gothic ghost story and a chilling portrayal of how intrusive technology can be. All the way through the narrative, I was never sure on which side of that dichotomy the climax would fall. While I did figure out a couple of the twists before they reached their apexes, there was plenty to keep me guessing.
The mystery genre is one of my favorite genres that I have somehow found myself reading less and less often as I grow older. I think the main reason for this is that many such novels tend to be formulaic, and I’ve become so well acquainted with that formula that I often have a difficult time not predicting the outcome before I even hit the fifty page mark. There are obvious exceptions, but as the mysteries that I try and find predictable are generally the new bestsellers, I usually steer clear of them. However, there was something about the synopsis of this particular book that grabbed me.
I’m a sucker for any story that starts at its end and works its way back from the beginning, and this is such a story. I also really love epistolary novels whenever I can find them, so I thoroughly enjoyed what that additional bit of formatting brought to the book. I appreciated that Ware kept drawing the reader’s attention back to the fact that the entire story was being told through letters, and that reminded us not to completely trust the veracity of the story as it was being narrated by the central character, who we know from the beginning is not necessarily trustworthy. The combination of plotting through letters and the setting of a huge manor house in the wilds of Scotland made for an incredibly atmospheric reading experience.
Onto the house itself. Heatherbrae House is a very disconcerting mix of the old and aggressively new. Sections of the house come straight from a Victorian Gothic, but these pieces have been sewn onto the ultra-modern, and both opposing styles are littered with technology that is almost futuristic and is definitely voyeuristic. So, imagine a moody Gothic mansion that is wired to hear and see and anticipate your every move. What this lends to the story is a mix of old school haunted house flair and overbearing smart house tension. I thought the mixing of these two radically different settings, and how they both impacted the plot, was pretty darn original.
Our main character comes to this house as a nanny to four girls whose parents are always on the go with the architectural firm the co-own and run themselves. Another element of the Gothic novel that Ware nailed here is the creepy child trope. I honestly would’ve run screaming. There’s nothing like being afraid of fictional kids to make anyone involved in childcare uncomfortable. If I wasn’t caring for a kid I had seen nearly everyday since her birth, I might have started looking at her askance whenever I picked up this book during her nap time. In my opinion, there is honestly nothing creepier than creepy kids.
As I stated earlier, I did guess some of the twists, but I was surprised by enough to still find the book enjoyable. There were plot points left unfinished, but this is not uncommon in mystery novels. There was enough resolution to leave me mostly satisfied, but enough mystery to ensure that I’m still thinking about this book after I have read its final pages. I’m interested to see if Ware’s other novels are just as gripping.