The kids may be blissfully back in school, but summer lingers on. Try to make the most of the solitude, peace and quiet with a few great reads before fall and – unbelievably –the frantic “holiday season” sets in. You need look no further than our local bookstores and libraries, so before you set off for the beach or a hammock in the backyard, browse their shelves to find the perfect book to pass your time, whatever your reading pleasure.
Here’s a recommendation …
Thanks to a friend who reads constantly, I discovered a new mystery writer, and, boy, have I missed out! Ruth Ware has been called “the Agatha Christie of our times,” an author she greatly admires. Ware’s worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a press officer before settling down as a full-time writer. She lives in Sussex, on the south coast of England, and is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” “The Woman in Cabin 10” and “The Lying Game.” In last year’s “The Death of Mrs. Westaway,” she created a young woman of questionable background and character who went to an isolated estate in Cornwall to try to claim part of an inheritance to which she was not entitled. Awaiting her, of course, was a by and large morose family of strangers and considerable menace.
Now, in “The Turn of the Key,” a scrupulous homage to Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” Ware’s newest, she gives us Rowan Caine, a young woman keen, for unsure reasons, to escape London and her day care job. She lands a lucrative live-in nanny post at an isolated but lovely locale, Heathbrae House, in the Scottish Highlands. The family comes across as picture perfect. Sandra and Bill Elincourt have four children – one infant, two little girls, and a teen at boarding school. They also have two dogs, a handsome general valet, a grumpy part-time housekeeper-cook and, it appears, a very poor record when it comes to keeping their nannies around. This is not “The Sound of Music,” nor is Rowan Maria Von Trapp. On paper, Rowan looks extremely capable of taking on the children’s care while their parents spend the bulk of their time away pursuing their architectural careers. (She looks so suited partly because she fabricated much of her own resume and all of her references.)
But if Rowan is hardly upfront with them, the family isn’t exactly open with her, especially the lascivious Bill. She learns that the house apparently has manifested some spooky doings that panicked the nannies before her and caused them to flee. What seems immediately creepy, however, is the fact the house, split between its Victorian/Gothic appearance and an ultra-modern renovation, has the very latest in the technology to which Bill is addicted. That means a crash course for Rowan in everything from voice-activated lights and locks to surveillance cameras everywhere.
When the Elincourts almost immediately leave on a work trip, Rowan is left with the children, one of whom gives her a strong, quiet warning to get out because “they” don’t want her there, and, by “they,” she means the ghosts. While Rowan doesn’t go – she can’t, for her own mysterious reasons, as well as being the only one in charge of small children – she does start having some disturbing experiences as she tries to figure out the place and the people.
The baby seems normal enough, but the two young girls have some sinister behaviors, and when the teenage daughter turns up from boarding school, she’s rebellious and anxious. They’d be a challenge for any nanny, much less someone who made up her own credentials.
That the property, for all its upscale luxuries and technology, can be a terrifying place, is obvious from the very start of the book with the first of a series of despondent letters Rowan is writing from prison to a well-known lawyer, pleading with him to take on her case because she has been charged in the death of one of the little girls in a headliner crime in which, she insists, she is innocent. Through the letters, she describes the household and her story, start to finish, in a narrative that is overflowing with atmosphere and stunning descriptions of the setting. Rowan is a beautifully composed character, serving as a forceful witness to the story’s events, but also maintaining just enough secrets of her own to keep us questioning her innocence.
Heatherbrae House comes alive written by Ware’s pen, and the peculiar events unfolding inside of its walls will keep readers up at night, both too scared to turn off the light and too wired to put down the book. This author is a master of foreshadowing, leaving hints throughout the novel that join together to create a shocking and climactic ending. Although Ware holds fast to her suspicious-young-woman-in-an-isolated-setting formula, she does have a trick that makes the book a pleasure for readers who are seeking the familiar, but who also are not opposed to a gratifyingly jolting finale.