Lockdown blues getting you down? Does the TV news sound the same every day? Remember those years when you discovered how to escape with a good book? It could take you to exotic places, earlier times or new adventures. In The Turn of the Key, (Scout Press/ Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019) Ruth Ware, a New York Times best-selling author, provides a gripping read that got my attention and carried me away. It’s important for us to continue social distancing and minimize our unwitting spread of the deadly Covid 19 virus, to build on our success so far in keeping the number of infections down. That’s why I maintain there still are good ways—like reading—to keep our minds active and be transported to other times and places.
Remote mansion’s mysterious mishaps
A young woman who works as a professional nanny lands a well-paying job in an ancient, reportedly haunted mansion in a remote mountainous region of Scotland. She is in charge of four poorly disciplined children, all girls, ages two, five, eight and a rebellious teen of fourteen. On arrival she learns the parents, both architects, have to be away on business even longer than anticipated. Rowan, the nanny, is overwhelmed.
The story is narrated from the first-person viewpoint of this young woman from her prison cell, after her conviction for murder of one of the girls. It takes the form of a long letter to a new lawyer, who has a reputation for winning difficult cases and freeing the wrongly punished.
A governess and ghosts
Rowan has only briefly met the husband, who is clearly to her a sexual predator. His caring wife, apparently unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge this fault, is at her wit’s end, since this is the fourth governess to serve the family in a few short years. Nonetheless, Rowan needs the generous pay and resolves to succeed in her new job as the parents depart on business. But nightly footsteps creaking from a hidden attic above her room, a mysteriously disappeared house key, a former owner’s neglected poison garden and multiple malfunctions of this aging manse, totally remodeled by the architects into a “smart house”, deprive Rowan of sleep and keep her in a constant state of shock and terror. She has only a dour, vindictive part-time housekeeper, a handsome resident caretaker and one moment of warmth from the eight-year-old girl to help her stave off total insanity. Then the unthinkable happens: in an unguarded hour one child dies, in a manner too bizarre to be totally accidental. The astonishing reversals and twists in this suspenseful tale keep you turning the pages, toward a totally unexpected conclusion.
Classic ghost story still horrifies
A remake, in the contemporary film sense, of Henry James’s 1898 horror novella, this modern thriller is a perfect antidote to self-isolation. It meets the standards of modern horror fiction, but has significant differences worth noting. Booklist says, “Ware’s James-like embroidery of the strange and sinister produces a Turn of the Screw with cell phones and Teslas that will enthrall today’s readers.” She also maintains the ghosts and the Gothic sense of terror that haunt the earlier tale. Whether or not the ghosts are real, the author enticingly leaves for you decide.
Another tale of terror, from within
My own family were readers and writers who loved mysteries. We read all the new ones, discussed them and passed them around the family. This led me to write about the official mischief, misdeeds and outright skullduggery I encountered working in the design and construction industry. So far I have written three suspenseful mysteries in the Patrick MacKenna series. I discuss the first one, Crimes of Design, about sabotage during the highest flood of record, in this brief YouTube post (4-min.):
A Gift for Mom: Authors Giveback Sale
Brighten her Mothers Day with a suspenseful mystery or my humorous wartime biography, Radio: One Woman’s Family in War and Pieces. Four of my Greenskills Press e-books are available at 60% off in any e-book format at my Smashwords profile page, starting at $1.60 each. Just select any book to see the Mayday rescue sale price.
Scary enough to shake those social distancing blues? Until next time, good words to you,