The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Another delicious Gothic murder mystery by the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and In A Dark Dark Wood, The Turn of the Key has Ruth Ware’s trademark twists and enough suspense to keep you reading through the night.  If you are familiar with Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (available for free from Project Gutenberg), you will know the similarity in the titles is no accident.

Both novels revolve around a caregiver of children – a governess in James’ 1890 story and a nanny in Ware’s.  Both involve ghosts – real or imagined – wreaking havoc on the surroundings, and both lead to the revelation of whether or not the caregiver is guilty of murder.  Both are scary.

Ware sets her story in an updated Victorian smart house with an automation system controlling lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances and a sophisticated home security system, but she cleverly maintains the Gothic aura by keeping sections of the house, especially the creepy attic and the overgrown garden, in old-fashioned mode. Setting the story in the Scottish Highlands helps too.  Both James and Ware knew a threatening house must have a past, preferably with a murder or two to stir the possible malevolence instilled in its walls.  The death of a child figures prominently in both stories.

The protagonist in The Turn of the Key, the nanny, is writing a letter from prison to solicit the help of a well-known attorney.  As she tells her side of the story, the reader suspects she is an unreliable narrator, but Ware keeps the story off balance by creating circumstances showing she might be innocent.  The big reveal at the end of the story identifies the murder victim and the murderer – and it caught me by surprise.

Ruth Ware has been compared to Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins (author of the Woman in White), but her modern Gothic tales amazingly update the eerie and mysterious, translating the thrills into today’s world.  A smart house with computer glitches can be scary.  She always delivers a good story with a surprise ending, and I can’t wait for her next one.

The Turn of the Key is due for publication in the United States on August 6th.

 

 

Listening to The Turn of the Screw

61biobf7pal-_sl150_         Henry James’ classic The Turn of the Screw has always had a scary plot – no matter how interpreted.  The first time I read this short book, I worried about ghosts creeping up to the  window; later in college, the specter of a mad woman governess who imagined ghosts seemed just as thrilling.  Thanks to a friend who recommended Emma Thompson’s interpretation of The Turn of the Screw on Audible,  I am again convinced the ghosts are real, and the audiobook has me checking the locks on windows and doors.

Emma Thompson easily portrays the new  governess to two angelic children in a remote English country house. She becomes convinced that the children are conspiring with a pair of evil ghosts, former employees at the estate – a valet and a previous governess. In life, the two had been discharged as illicit lovers, and their spectral visitations with the children hint at Satanism and possible abuse. The governess is convinced she must protect her two charges; in her effort to shield them, she traumatizes the little girl and kills the little boy.  The reader must decide whether the ending is the result of a governess gone mad or the evil ghosts are real.

The story is full of dark “dreadfulness,”  and Emma Thompson easily switches from the well rounded vowels of the governess to the high- pitched voices of the children.   Emma Thompson’s terror becomes tangible as she describes the apparitions, and you can almost imagine the silent screams of the ghosts. But when, as the housekeeper, she uses a quavering voice to deny them, the first hints of the governess’s possible mental instability appear.  Which terror is real – ghosts or madness or possibly both?

After listening to the story, I agree with Brad Leithauser, the editor of The Norton Book of Ghost Stories: “Consigned to everlasting misery, the damned are restless in their perdition. Some of them are too nasty for hell, and they sometimes get in among us.

If a book club is looking for a classic to discuss, The Turn of the Screw would be a great selection – especially around Halloween.