With four of her novels under my belt, I can safely say that Ruth Ware’s books are hit-or-miss for me. In baseball terms, she has a .500 batting average, which I realize is actually pretty damn good if you play baseball. For an author, though, it isn’t the greatest. The Turn of the Key is, for me, among her misses, which is unfortunate because I adored her previous novel and want to keep loving what she publishes.
The most significant area in which she misses this time around is the timing of the novel, and by timing I mean the year in which the story occurs. Set in 2014, one of the largest areas of confusion, wonder, and dread that Rowan faces in her new nanny position is the use of smart technology within the home. All electronics in the home run off an app and each room has a camera in it. Rowan struggles to master this technology, and it later becomes one of the reasons for her severe discomfort within the home. Unfortunately, such technology is now commonplace, and apps pretty much run our entire lives these days. To feel such fear for something that is relatively ubiquitous these days is difficult to fathom. I could never understand Rowan’s skepticism or fear. I get the creepiness of having a camera in her room, but she solves that issue by placing a sock over the lens. Usually, I can put myself into the hero’s shoes and let go of any modern-day thought processes, but I could not do so here, and my enjoyment of the novel suffered.
I also thought most of the story was fairly predictable. Sure, I did not figure out the entire surprise twist, and the part I did not catch made the ending that much more chilling. However, I found I had large portions of it solved in advance so that Rowan’s big reveal was nothing but a confirmation of information I already knew. Ms. Ware is so good at creating novels that shock and awe. Even her second novel, which is my least favorite, still had an ending that left me reeling at its unexpectedness. In the case of The Turn of the Key, though, I felt nothing but disappointment.
Ms. Ware can still make an entire character out of the setting of her novel. In this case, the house itself becomes that creepy character. In this case, it is not the smart technology that is the cause, but the dichotomy between old and new that is so unsettling. Rowan mentions many times how the house looks like the remodelers chopped it in half with the front retaining all of its Victorian-era design and charm and the second half straight out of a modern architect’s fantasy with no mixing of the two styles. Plus, an entire wall of windows in a house in which you are the only adult set in a remote area of an unfamiliar country is just screaming Gothic. Ms. Ware excels at making the most modern setting as Gothic as possible, and that is what keeps me coming back to her time and again.
The Turn of the Key is not enough for me to give up on Ms. Ware and her novels. Her penchant for modern Gothic stories is too intriguing in this day and age for me to ignore. Plus, I’ve genuinely enjoyed two out of her four novels. While not the best average for an author, what she does well in her stories is too good to ignore. So, while The Turn of the Key is not my favorite of her novels, I will keep reading what she publishes because she can do creepy as well as any King novel, and that’s saying something.