“The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware is a mystery within a mystery told in a first person narrative by Rowan Caine. “I am the nanny in the Elincourt case.” In a series of letters to a lawyer, Mr. Wrexham, she begs him to represent her at her trial. “I didn’t kill that child.”
With that startling opening, readers follow every heart-wrenching line as Rowan pours out the events leading up to her incarceration and upcoming trial. “To explain properly, I have to tell you how it happened. Day by day. Night by night. Piece by piece.” She writes as a conversation, unedited, unplanned. She relates events to her prospective lawyer, the good, the bad, and the corrected “I’ve scribbled it out, but you can probably see the word through the paper.”
Readers want to believe her, want to be on her side; she seems so sincere, so honest, and so very desperate. “I am telling you the truth.” She describes finding the perfect job as a nanny to lovely girls. The couple has a home with every modern convenience, a smart home with programmed monitoring, automatic safety locks, spontaneous music, instinctive communication, and even a fridge that keeps track of food. This is the job she has always wanted.
Vivid descriptions pull readers into the beautiful geography that greets Rowan.
“The house in front of me was a modest Victorian lodge, foursquare, like a child’s drawing of a house, with a glossy black door in the center and windows on each side. It was not big but solidly built of granite blocks, with lush Virginia creeper rambling up one side of it, and I could not have put my finger on exactly why, but it exuded warmth and luxury and comfort. “
Ware works very hard to make readers believe that everything is perfect, and we do want to believe that nothing is wrong. However, Rowan’s disturbing comments keep popping into our minds, and we know that things are not as nice as we would like them to be. When the parents leave on a business trip, Rowan is alone with the children, and things start to go wrong. At first, it is just one or two curious events, and she explains them away as the result of her inexperience with the high tech gadgets that manage everything in the home. Events take a dramatic turn, and the unexplained escalates. Rowan’s tension increases, and disaster looms. The unvarnished truth rears its ugly head, about the house, about the children, about Rowan.
“The Turn of the Key” is Ware at her best as she takes readers down one mysterious path and then another more complicated one with hardly a respite between. Adversity, suspicion, and jeopardy grow progressively and deliberately page after page. I was given a review copy of “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware and Simon & Schuster. I could not put it down, so I recommend planning some time for uninterrupted reading with the internet OFF.