Source: Review copy; Netgalley
Publication: 8th August 2019 from Harvill Secker
I know you don’t know me but you have to help me. I didn’t kill anyone.
When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.
She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…
With echoes of Henry James, the title here is an homage to that author, and a fitting nod to the similarity of situations, if not to the plot overall.
Rowan Caine has a job as a childcare worker in a nursery in London. Recently passed over for promotion, she is fed up and one day when idly googling she comes across a job that seems too good to be true. Bill and Sandra Elincourt are architects. They live in the Highlands and are looking for a live-in nanny for their four children; teenager Rhiannon, who is at boarding school in Inverness during the week; Maddie and Ellie who are both at primary school and 18 month old Petra.
The pay is exceptional but as Sandra explains to Rowan when she invites her for interview, they have gone through quite a few nannies which has been disruptive for the children; the house itself is quite remote and both Bill and Sandra require to travel for their work which can mean they are both away from home for more than a week at a time. So they have determined to pay well, so that they get the best possible person for their children.
The house itself is a mixture of old Victorian and brand new glass and steel. In keeping with their trendy image, the house is served with the latest in smart technology with a ‘Happy app’ controlling everything from the lights to the food ordering to the door locks. Each room is monitored and though this should make life easier for Rowan. In reality it all feels a little too ‘big brother-ish’ to be comfortable for Rowan.
There are two other staff; Jack a gardener come all round handyman, who lives in the stable block across from the house and Jean who comes in from the nearby village twice a day to do a little housekeeping.
Needless to say, Rowan gets the job and almost immediately Sandra tells her that she and Bill have to leave for a European trade fair.
We know all this because Rowan is writing everything in a letter to a Scottish Solicitor Advocate, seeking his representation. She is on remand, in custody awaiting trial for the murder of a child.
She has no confidence in her court appointed solicitor and so has sought advice from the other inmates and is writing to the most recommended advocate to beseech him to take her case. Proclaiming her innocence, she sets down her whole case and her experiences leading up to the death of a child.
As we read her letters, we learn of her difficult start in the house; of the way the children are difficult with her and of the air of creepiness and sometimes downright malevolence that seems to intrude on Rowan at night. Ghostly noises, changes in temperature, creakings, all add up to a chilling and unsettling experience for a 24 year old girl left alone in an unfamiliar house with young children who neither like nor trust her.
Through her pleading letters, we learn of these occurrences and more. Of the house’s strange history and a physic garden that contains only poisons. We also learn something of Rowan’s own history and begin to understand that her version of events has not always been reliable.
Ruth Ware is always a fascinating writer and The Turn of the Key is both chilling and intense. The storyline is compelling and propulsive and the prose enjoys a slow build up that is deliciously wicked and suspenseful. Ware builds in some great creepy moments and there are many twists and turns to keep the reader awake into the small hours creeped out and guessing.
Verdict: A chilling, intense read that is wicked and compelling.
Ruth Ware is an international number one bestseller. Her thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway were smash hits, and she has appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times. Her books have been optioned for both film and TV, and she is published in more than 40 languages. Ruth lives near Brighton with her family. Visit www.ruthware.com to find out more.
Ruth Ware will be appearing at Bloody Scotland on Saturday 21st September at 10am. Find out details from the Bloody Scotland website.