So this is probably my favorite Ruth Ware book that I have read. The other ones were missing key elements or just were not developed enough in my opinion. In “The Turn of the Key” Ware updates “The Turn of the Screw” to contemporary times. Instead of a governess, we have a live in nanny. Instead of two children, we end up having our governess deal with three. And it also takes a while for everything to be revealed. The main reason why I didn’t give this five stars is that I think Ware should have followed Henry James’s lead and made you wonder if the governess, or in this case the nanny, was really being haunted by something dark and sinister. Instead we get a reveal that I don’t think really worked at all since it left open what happened to the nanny. I can guess though if I take a look at what James allowed to happen. So other than that, four stars.
“The Turn of the Key” starts out with former nanny, Rowan Caine, writing to a highly respected barrister to help her. Ware shows readers a few letters not sent, and then the first one that is sent to the barrister with Rowan saying that she did not kill the child in question. We quickly find out that Rown is being held in Scotland and that the police have charged her with murder. Rowan admits that some things that have come out are true, but she has an explanation for everything. After that, the book follows Rowan as she continues to write and explain what happened when she agreed to go and work for Sandra and Bill Elincourt.
So first thing is that you may not end up liking Rowan at times. Once everything about her is revealed you may go oh and then start to pity her. So I went round and round about that. Rowan just wants more. She gets turned down for a promotion at her nanny school and then her roommate is off traveling. She’s lonely. When she sees the ad from Sandra and Bill Elincourt looking for a new nanny she thinks it’s a sign. Of course once Rowan is on her way to Heatherbrae House she starts to think maybe her luck is turning. Her first view of the house makes it look warm and comforting. She can imagine the family inside and finds herself wanting some of that as well. Rowan though starts to feel like something is wrong with the house. She realizes that Heatherbrae is a weird mixture of Victorian and modern and the modern seems at times obscene to her. Also the house is a “smart” house and everything can be viewed on camera or programmed. After a while I thought it was creepy too though the app that the family uses is called “Happy.”
The secondary characters I thought were good too. We have Jack (Jack of all trades around the house) and Jean (the housekeeper) as well as the four children that Rowan is eventually put in charge of, Petra (the youngest), Ellie (the next youngest), Madeline (next to the oldest) and the oldest daughter who lives away at boarding school, but comes home infrequently.
The four girls all have their own personalities and I had to wonder how Rowan didn’t lose it every day while watching the girls. Once Sandra and Bill leave Rowan in order to travel for their business, Ellie and Maddie turn into little PITAs. She keeps trying with them though and wants to do what she can to be a good nanny.
Sandra seems a bit…well not off, but she definitely loves her children and as Rowan can tell she’s torn about leaving them so much. Bill was very one dimensional I thought. I think that was on purpose though. We find out more about him via Rowan’s letters.
I think telling the story via letters to an attorney actually worked. We have Rowan recounting the things that happened to her, the noises she heard, and how the stories about the house she heard from the villagers started to scare her. She’s in a house all day with just three children and an app that she can talk to and or is monitoring her, I would have been frightened too. The flow actually worked very well. The story keeps clicking nicely along and then we get to the ugly ending that we know is going to happen. We find out who Rowan stands accused of murdering.
The setting of Heatherbrae House at times feels comforting and then sinister. Ware does a great job of describing the house and the way it is set up. I would have loved to see a map included because I am just visual like that. You have Rowan going round and round about ghosts haunting the home or someone else messing with her. You definitely get a seesaw sense with her going back and forth about things. I also thought it was creepy that Rowan’s moves could be monitored and that Julie would just call a particular room if she wanted to talk to her daughters.
The ending of the book as I said was disappointing. If Ware had left things alone like Ware with us not knowing what happened to Rowan or whether the ghosts were real or not it would have worked. Instead that ending kind of deflated things.