The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware

As its title suggests, Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key borrows a plot device from one of my favourite books, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: a young woman, potentially somewhat unreliable as a narrator, travels to a large, isolated house to work as a nanny to some children who are immediately left more or less alone in her care. The children are somewhat enigmatic, and not long after Rowan Caine arrives, strange, unsettling things start to happen that leave her tense and on edge. The extra chill here, though, comes from the fact that Rowan is telling her story from prison, where she awaits trial for murdering the children in her care. Did Rowan really kill the children? And if she did, why?

Like Ware's previous novel, The Death of Mrs WestawayThe Turn of the Key is a modern gothic chiller featuring a young woman, alone in the world, who finds herself in peril in a large, isolated house. This time, the house in question has been recently renovated by the owners, who are extremely wealthy architects - far from being a tumbledown gothic mansion, it's all high tech smart lighting and app-controlled showers, which gives the house something strangely close to a unnerving sentience as Rowan is continually wrong-footed by voice-controlled gadgets and hidden speakers. That said, Heatherbrae House still has some classic trappings of a haunted mansion: a dark and tragic past, a stern housekeeper, a secret walled garden, concealed staircases and, most importantly, things that go bump in the night.

There are moments when the reader has to suspend their disbelief a little - for example, I'm not entirely convinced that the super-rich owners of Heatherbrae House would actually have left their four daughters (one of whom is a teenager Rowan has never met and the youngest of which is barely more than a baby) alone with their new nanny for several days immediately after her arrival. But this is a clever mystery full of twists and uncertainties. As the narrator, Rowan is not only unreliable but also clearly hiding something - she's evasive when it comes to her driving licence, for example, and we know that she hasn't performed as well in her previous childcare job as she suggests to employers. Is she just a young woman adding the standard gloss to her achievements in a job interview for an exceptionally lucrative position? Or does she have a more sinister secret?

The Turn of the Key is a tense, claustrophobic mystery with an ominous sense of impending tragedy and a psychological thriller with spooky undertones. An entertaining page-turner for a winter evening.