• Alisa Williams

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware


I picked up my first Ruth Ware book on a whim, just a few months ago. Someone had dropped off The Woman in Cabin 10 at the used bookstore where I volunteer and it had a pretty cover (yes, I totally judge books by their covers) and an intriguing plot, and it didn't hurt that the book was in great condition, so I gave it a try.


And the rest, as they say, is history. I've read all but one of her books now (I still need to get to The Lying Game), and so I was super excited when the publisher approved me for an ARC of her latest, which drops on August 6.


The Turn of the Key has all the signature elements I've come to expect in her writing: an intriguing, likeable, but flawed main character. A contemporary setting with a gothic vibe. And plenty of twists and turns to go around:


Rowan Caine is looking for a change. She’s recently been passed up for a promotion at the daycare center where she works, and doesn’t get along with her boss. So when she stumbles across an ad for a live-in nanny with a ridiculously high salary, she just has to apply. When she shows up at the stunning historic mansion that’s been renovated with the latest smart technology and is situated in the idyllic countryside, she knows this is the place she wants to be. It helps that the three children are adorable and well-behaved, and the mother attentive and warm. Little does Rowan know she’s stepping into a nightmare that will end with one child dead and her behind bars, wrongfully accused of murder.


So, my feelings on this book are super mixed. Despite the compelling plot, The Turn of the Key is easily my least favorite of Ware’s books. A large part of this has to do with the execution. The book is written in letter form. Rowan is writing to a lawyer from jail, hoping he’ll believe her side of things and go to bat for her. A child is dead, and she's been convicted, but we won't find out exactly which child died until the very end of her letter, which is of course the length of the entire book. So, we're talking a 350 page letter, give or take. I have no problem suspending disbelief for a lot of things in suspense, but a 350 page letter? That I have a hard time with. It just feels forced and formulaic, especially because the way you have to write a book to maintain your audience's interest is definitely not the way anyone would write a formal letter to a lawyer eliciting help for their wrongful arrest.


Additionally, this book is part of the "nanny suspense" craze, which I'm not a fan of whatsoever. Maybe it's because I worked in a daycare center for years, but this sub-genre has an ick factor for me. I don't want to read about a child dying under the care and supervision of their nanny. My dislike of this sub-genre is obviously totally a personal preference on my part, so take it or leave it. I also don't want to read about nannies who hate kids, which this main character does. If you hate kids, don't work with kids. Period. Because of this, Rowan was not a sympathetic character at all for me. I was pretty much rooting for anyone but her by the end of the first chapter.


But setting aside the annoying format, my issues with nanny suspense, and the fact that the book had a rather slow start, overall it did hold my attention and kept me turning the pages. I’m sure part of that has to do with my trust in Ware as an author, knowing all is not as it seems, and wanting to find out what I'm missing. And she certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. There were definitely a couple "whoa" moments where I was surprised by the twist and hadn't seen it coming at all.


But despite not being able to put it down, and some major twists along the way, I was disappointed in the ending. Don't worry, I won't give anything away, but I will say that I felt like the book could have used an epilogue. The ending left me wanting more, but not in a good way. I'm used to Ware's endings being pretty solid. She's never one to wrap everything up in a neat little bow, but at the same time, you feel satisfied with the conclusion and feel comfortable closing the book on these characters you've come to care about. I did not feel that way with this one.


So, overall, I'd give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars. If you've never read this author before, I'd suggest starting with one of her other books first — The Death of Mrs. Westaway is my personal favorite. But even with the elements I didn't like, I'd still recommend The Turn of the Key to anyone who loves Ruth Ware or suspense in general. You'll like this book. Maybe not love it, but it's a solid suspense mystery that will keep you guessing even after the last page.


This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.

Alisa Williams is the managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. She blogs at alisawilliamswrites.com, tweets at @AWWritesStories, and bookstagrams at @AllyWritesStories.

Photo by Alisa Williams.

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