Turn of the Key is an unnerving story told by a murder suspect as she recounts the background and incident to the death of a child while she was the nanny. Rowan Caine is the nanny who is accused of killing a young girl she was caring for and she is writing the story in the form of a letter to a solicitor, Mr Wrexham, requesting his services to defend her. Within the story, there are periodic passages where she speaks directly to Mr Wrexham outlining how her story may be considered and continuously stating her innocence, no matter how the evidence looks. As a technique, it was used to remind the reader that this is only one account and perhaps a very unbalanced and disconcerting version, but I felt it more distracting.
Rowan applies for the nanny position with Sandra and Bill Elincourt, and their 4 daughters ranging from 18 months to 14 years old. The family live in a remote part of Scotland in a house that jolts between new and old. The Victorian architecture of the building clashes abruptly with the high-tech sensor and communication technology that controls features throughout the house. Door access, lighting, heating, curtains, music and room-to-room communications all offer an opportunity to mix faulty operation, malicious intent and/or paranormal interference. Before Rowan has even taken up the position, young Maddie warns her not to come as the “Ghosts wouldn’t like it.”
There is a theme of uncertainty littered throughout the story, from the reliability of the accused’s narration to the contrary characters and the house itself. Everything that happens is projected through the house and so many nannies have previously left feeling threatened as the house could be harbouring something sinister. With so many flawed characters it often adds to more realistic personalities and relationships, but in this case, I found it difficult to empathise and connect with any character as their personalities were all disagreeable and distant.
Sandra and Bill are partners in their own architectural business and travel all the time. In fact, they first leave Rowan alone only 2 days after she starts. Rowan has at best embellished her CV and feels the struggle to maintain the professional image she created and wrestles with a seething anger that threatens to spill over into how she deals with the children.
“I hate you too! I wanted to scream after their retreating backs, as they padded quietly away into the media room to fire up Netflix. I hate you too, you vile, creepy little shits!”
The plot sets up various possible routes and each offers equal plausibility and opportunity. There is a final twist that I didn’t get and that deserves a lot of credit as it wasn’t even on my radar.
The split personality Victorian Smart house, mixed with a dark history, provides a unique canvas to play out a family constantly in flux as nannies are forced to leave until one nanny puts up a battle and a child dies. I felt the pace of the book was slow but the main disappointment was that the characters didn’t cry out to be championed. I would rate 3.5 stars but still recommend the book and I’d like to thank Gallery/Scout Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.