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.

 

 

Something in the Water

Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick – Something in the Water – has me wondering when she will produce it for viewing. Catherine Steadman’s book has all the elements of a great series – exotic settings, unreliable characters, and plot twists favoring the female leads.

I listened to Steadman’s British tones reading the book for Audible and it was hard to not keep going into the night. The “something in the water” was not what I had expected and the hints of espionage and financial fraud added to the suspense.

Erin, a documentary producer, and Mark, an out of work hedge fund expert, go off on their honeymoon to Bora Bora. Mark, an expert diver, convinces Erin to overcome her fears to experience the beautiful underwater world. His cavalier comments about the sharks in the water had me suspicious, but what they find leads the adventure into murky waters as each plot twist combines danger and a new life for both.

Great fun to listen to.

A Short Thought on a Book I Do Not Plan to Read

shopping   I prefer Tom Clancy to James Patterson when I am looking for a thrill through espionage, and I would rather see the movie than read the book – “Hunt for Red October” leading the list.  James Patterson’s prolific turnout leaves me cold, despite the heroic Alex Cross, so my expectations were low for his collaboration with a former President.

But then I saw the tantalizing interview with Bill Clinton exonerating himself from the MeToo movement, and then I read Anthony Lane’s sarcastic take on “Bill Cinton and James Patterson’s Concussive Collaboration” in the New Yorker.  Although the book is a thriller, Lane offers excerpts guaranteed to provoke laughter in the context of his analysis.

Has any of this convinced me to read the Patterson/Clinton book?  No, but I am more determined than ever to read Curtis Sittenfeld’s book imagining how Hillary’s life would have been like if she had not married Bill, planned for publication in 2019.  There’s a thriller worth anticipating.

In the meantime, I am desperately looking for a good book to read – any ideas?

Tangerine

shopping-1  A page-turner, with traces of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hitchcock’s Gaslight, with two unreliable narrators, and with no “girl” in the title, Christine Mangan’s Tangerine has all the elements of a chilling thriller.  I was sorry to have it end.

Alice and Lucy meet as roommates at Bennington College in Vermont – Alice, the frail wealthy orphan with a trust fund and Lucy, the poor striving local girl on scholarship.  Although the plot proceeds predictably, with Lucy insinuating herself into Alice’s confidence, and Alice depending on Lucy to shore up her insecurities, the story makes a sharp turn when Alice finds true love with a Williams College boy in her senior year.

As the story shifts to Alice escaping to Tangier with her questionable husband, Lucy reappears in her life, and the mystery of the exotic surroundings adds to the intrigue.  Murders – more than one – dot the scenery, and Lucy evolves into a dangerous yet persistent terror.

Through flashback the reader understands Alice’s trauma filled life, with the death of her parents and the murder of her college love.  Referencing writer Paul Bowles, the novelist who wrote about Westerners who lose themselves in Morocco, Mangan gives Lucy and her shady Moroccan friend Youssef the motivation for  evil, ” You must read him {Bowles}, if you want to understand this place.” The “Tangerine” of the title refers to a native of the Moroccan city, Tangier, and the narrators do lose themselves there.

Poor Alice – despite her efforts – she seems doomed and outwitted at every turn.  This book is a movie waiting to happen.

After reading the book in one sitting, I decided to find Paul Bowles, and have ordered his The Sheltering Sky from the library.  The New York Review of Books offered a useful resource for his life and writings in Tangier – The Hypnotic Clamor of Morocco.

Related ReviewNew York Times: Trusting in the Sheltering Sky

Do Not Become Alarmed

shopping-3Maile Meloy hooked me with her Apothecary series for young adults; when Meloy’s fellow Guggenheim winner, Ann Patchett, praised Do Not Be Alarmed, the book became my next must read. Unfortunately, I started the book late at night and pulled my first all-nighter in a long time to finish it. I just couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve cruised to the Panama Canal and toured the Central American countries along the way, you will immediately connect with the venue. When three families decide to explore one of the ports of call – what seems like Costa Rica (although Meloy does not actually name it), their lives are traumatized and changed forever. The husbands take advantage of a golf club connection to spend the day on the links and the three wives with children ranging from six to fifteen hire Pedro, a handsome young local, to drive them to ziplining through the trees. When Pedro’s vehicle gets a flat tire, the plot takes the turn from happy vacation to danger.

The parents’ interpersonal issues offer some relief to the constant terrors the children face, from drug-dealing kidnappers to hungry crocodiles. Meloy manages to feed their helplessness and shows a range of ways people deal with threat.  But it’s the children who captured my attention, from 6 year old June who worries about her bunny, eight year old diabetic Sebastian who will not survive without his insulin, fourteen year old Isabel blooming into adolescence, and calm centered eleven year old Marcus. My favorite was Penny, an eleven year old who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in her perspicacious role as a teenager in the movie “Election.”

Do Not Become Alarmed is a thrill ride; the ending brings all the strings together as almost an afterthought. And you wonder what kind of lives they will all have, especially the children, years later when their misery catches up with them.

If you liked Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Meloy’s Do Not Become Alarmed will give you the same thrilling yet thoughtful experience. You may find it as impossible to put down as I did.

 

Read my review of The Apothecary –  here