Monday, March 2, 2020
Published August 2019 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: checked out from my local library
When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine 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 herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.
Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.
It was everything.
She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.
There was very little doubt in my mind before I picked up this book that Ware can write a mystery that will completely suck me into it. She takes the old tropes and always finds a way to make them unique and new. In this book she channels two of the greats, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Ballsy, right? While The Turn of the Key may not live up to those books, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work. I couldn’t put it down but I could hardly make myself turn the page for fear of what was coming next.
Most of this book is told through letters Rowan is writing to a Mr. Wrexham, a solicitor she is hoping to convince to take her case. She knows she’s made mistakes in the way she tried to explain things before, first to the police and then to her first solicitor. This time she is going to start from the beginning and tell the whole story so that Mr. Wrexham will know the whole truth before he decides if he will help her.
Rowan is, as you might already have guessed, not the most reliable of narrators. There’s a part of you that will be disliking and mistrusting her from the beginning. There’s another part of you, though, that can’t help but feel bad for her, more and more so as the book goes on. She’s in over her head from the get-go, with an infant and two young girls that aren’t particularly interested in doing what they’re told and parents who have to leave on business the day after Rowan arrives. If you’ve had any experience with children, you can just imagine what that would be like. Then you throw in the fact that Rowan is trying to care for these difficult children while cameras throughout the house are watching her every move. Ware even throws in a housekeeper who doesn’t care much for Rowan (oh, hey there Mrs Danvers). Now let’s amp things up a bit – the “smart” app starts acting crazy, there are pacing footsteps above Rowan’s room at night – but she’s on the top floor, there’s an actual poison garden (yep, I see you Frances Hodgson Burnett), and the family’s teenage daughter arrives home from boarding school and she is really not a fan of the new nanny.
It’s not flawless. Honestly, if Rowan would have been awakened one more night in a row by a noise, I’m not sure I could have gone on, there are some loose ends that never get tied up, and I tired of being reminded of how the two parts of the house were so very different. But by the end of the book, I could not have cared less about those things.
Ware makes readers look this way and then that trying to figure out what’s going on around the house and what’s Rowan’s real reason for taking the job and sticking around when any sane person would have run after the first night. Maybe those of you who read books like this regularly will have figured out all of the mysteries before the end of the book but I was completely blindsided. As I got within 100 pages of the end of the book, I was stymied. It felt like there should be more; I couldn’t imagine how Ware was going to get this story finished in what was left of the book. The answer to that was just one of the big surprises at the end of the book. I finished the book sitting in my car during my lunch break and got back from lunch late because I had to take a few minutes to process what I’d just read. This might just be my favorite Ware book yet. Yeah, it’s that good.