Mini Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

Having listened to Imogen Church read The Woman in Cabin 10, I was excited to see her name again. Church speaks clearly and convincingly pulls off various accents. The Turn of the Key is about a nanny from England who travels to Scotland to watch the children of very busy parents, also from England. The girls are weird, the house makes noises like someone is creeping around in the attic just above the nanny’s bed, and we start seeing the connections to The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Although the rich parents bought an old house in an isolated location, no one is hampered by lack of Wi-Fi or cell phone reception. In fact, the technology is overwhelming, the house being converted into a smart house, where everything from the lights and temperature, to the door locks and shower settings are all connected to an app.

I was struck by the way the house is like a Frankenstein’s monster in that the old and new are sewn together to make this weird house that doesn’t quite work but is hideously beautiful. The owners are architects, so of course they made changes to the old house when they bought it, adding new sections and modern design elements. Each section feels like it must get along with whatever it’s attached to.

Ware’s book is a mystery and thriller, making readers ask what is producing the scary noises, why are the children so weird, and is the father a pervert. It’s all framed by the nanny in prison writing to her lawyer. We know one of the children in her charge is dead (which one??), and clearly she’s incarcerated for murder, though she claims she’s innocent. It’s hard to accept that the entire novel is meant to be a letter to a lawyer, given that paper and writing utensils are not free in prison, and I can’t imagine lawyers read letters the size of books.

Ware drops clues all over the place and tromps along at a good pace, until I hit discs 8 and 9 — out of 10. Ware does her thing, just like In A Dark, Dark Wood, and mashes the brakes, bringing the plot to a crawl. I wanted to quit. The nanny is the first-person narrator, and she internally asks the dumbest questions — multiple at a time — to speculate what is going on. “Could it be X? No, X was in X’s room. What if Y was creeping in? Y gives me a bad feeling. But what would Y’s motive be??” Lady, let the reader ask the questions. But, I carried on and was surprised by the ending, which is both more horrible and less scary that I thought it would be.

With Imogen Church at the mic giving characters unique voices and correct accents, I’ve no doubt that listening to the audiobook is the best way to engage with Ruth Ware’s work.

39 comments

  1. I read it, rather than listened, and suspect you might be right. I got bored, flipped to the back for the solution, and then didn’t bother with the rest of the middle.

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    • Ware has this thing where her words on the page look flat, but Imogen Church, the audiobook narrator, really adds emotional depth to her reading, sort of performing the main character (who is always a first-person female narrator) instead of simply reading.

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  2. hahaha i loved reading this, your review was so funny. I didn’t notice her asking the questions, but you’re right, when you’re reading the book, it’s super annoying for the protagonist to be asking them! Sadly, the pervert is hard to avoid in so many books these days (and reality, it seems).

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  3. Sounds like audio is the right format for this story. I’m still not entirely convinced that I want to give it a try. Perhaps, I should try The Woman in Cabin 10 instead?

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    • What kind of thriller novel do you enjoy? They’re all a bit different. The Woman in Cabin 10 is more about anxiety and using medication to treat it, which leads to people questioning the logic and truth of what the person with anxiety says. Another Ware novel called In a Dark, Dark Wood is more about high school relationships and how they change when those friends become adults.

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  4. What kind of thriller? That is a big question! I actually wrote a post about it. Ideally, I like a page turner with strong, surprising plot and complex and believable characters. Not much to ask for? Unfortunately, I often get disappointed by modern crime thrillers. Probably, I should study some of the reviews on Goodreads for Ware’s different books. I would like to try one of them, since everyone speaks highly of her.

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  5. “Both more horrible and less scary than I thought it would be” is exactly what I enjoyed about this one. I’m glad the audio worked so well for you! It is interesting that you see the narrator asking questions as an element that slows the story down- I definitely tend to pick up the pace at the end of a Ware novel, though maybe I have the impression of the story speeding up just because it’s easier to read through those parts faster, to get at what’s really going on between the questions? Hmm. In any case, I always appreciate her sense of atmosphere- I found the Frankenhouse so interesting to read about, though I thought I would find it ugly and frustrating in person!

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    • Yeah, it’s hard to picture how the house would go together, even if talented architects were designing it. I don’t mind questions so much as I get tired of the narrator asking so many questions right in a row. It felt like notes that the author would write to herself to figure out her plotting.

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  6. Do you find creepy books to be more or less creepy in audio version? Every review I’ve read of this one reminds me of an old Isaac Asimov (I think) story where a house takes such good care of itself that when the owner dies it just cleans up the corpse and continues on.

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  7. Re Karissa’s comment, I have a Robert Sheckley story – Can You Feel it when I do this? – where the housewife and the vacuum cleaner end up having sex (I’m not sure Asimov would go that far). But to get back to the review, I read lots of American crime/thriller fiction on audiobook, I’m going to have to take more notice of the reader. I don’t remember reading this or any other of Ware’s titles, but I’ll look out for them.

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    • I haven’t read The Lying Game (weirdly, I’d not even heard of the title before), but I wonder if Ware suffers from the same issues: starting at the end and mixing past and present at a good clip before finally dragging her heels and making the book slow down too much before the Big Reveal.

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  8. Good to know about the audio! Narration is really important to me. I’ve been wanting to try Ware for awhile so I think I’ll give this a shot. Great review!

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    • I haven’t read The Death of Mrs. Westaway. I’ve read three Ware novels, and all three had the same issue for me: a really sluggish part that prevents the conclusion from coming. I get being a tease, but she adds way too much slow down to the point where I question if I want to put the book down. My husband felt the same way about all three novels. I think I’ll try more Sarah Pinborough in the future when I’m thinking I should try another thriller.

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  9. I swear, this woman is so prolific! I feel like every month someone is reviewing a Ware book I’ve never heard of. The Turn of the Key included. I haven’t read The Turn of the Screw, nor do I know what it is about. Is this an homage? Would readers benefit from knowing James’s book going into this?

    I love the name Imogen Chruch. Beautiful! I’m glad that Ware has a consistently wonderful narrator.

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    • The Turn of the Screw is a classic novella that people will likely encounter in high school or college. It’s a story about a nanny whose charges insist they see ghosts. I find it a bit dry, but I know other folks really enjoy it. Ware’s novel is based on that concept — nanny/ghosts — so you really don’t need to read James before you read Ware. I know you listen to audiobooks, so this one might be a good pick for you!

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    • I think my favorite out of the ones I read was The Turn of the Key simply because I couldn’t figure out what was going on yet felt tense about the noises the character hears, and it’s really easy to hate the children she’s watching, which is also a creepy feeling.

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  10. Of the four Ware books I’ve read, this was my least favorite by far. I was just irritated by the whole premise – if the offer SOUNDS TOO GOOD to be true, it probably is. My favorite was The Death of Mrs. Westaway. It felt like a throwback/homage to a Christie-style mystery.
    The only one I have yet to read is The Lying Game.

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