The Literary Salon – A Modern Gothic Mystery

“It’s a dark and stormy night….the November winds are howling around the house as the last of the leaves go scurrying across the yard.   Inside, all is silent except for the sound of sleet pinging against the window.   It will be snow tomorrow.”      

Thus reads my journal entry for last weekend.   We had eight inches of snow on Monday, Veteran’s Day, a record for this early in the season.   It was the perfect day to snuggle inside and read a good book, preferably one with lots of atmosphere.

Gothic mystery is heavy on atmosphere – there’s always a haunted house with a dark history, a slightly sinister caretaker, an unexplained murder or two and some ghostly phenomena to set the proper tone of creepy ambiance.  Add in a determined but solitary heroine who confronts terror head on, and a dash of potential romance with a male of the strong and silent type, and the genre is complete.    Dauphne du Mauier’s Rebecca, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights set the bar high for this standard.    But if you want a modern update on the Gothic mystery then Ruth Ware’s latest book, The Turn of the Key, provides a modern twist – a haunted house with Smart technology set on the windswept Scottish moors…but maybe it’s not a good idea to be too Smart. 

The Turn of the Key - Ruth WareThe Publishers Blurb:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unraveling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant. It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

About the Author:
Ruth Ware is an international number one bestseller. Her thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway were smash hits, and she has appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times. Her books have been optioned for both film and TV, and she is published in more than 40 languages. Ruth lives near Brighton with her family. Visit http://www.ruthware.com to find out more.
Why I Liked It:

This is the third Ruth Ware book I have read, and by far her best.   I blogged about The Death of Mrs. Westaway in last years post A Gothic Read for Halloween.   While I enjoyed that book, it took over a hundred pages to establish the protagonist as young, poor and alone, although she did an excellent job of describing what it’s like to live never knowing where your next meal is coming from.   While The Woman in Cabin Ten was more of a psychological thriller, her last two books rely on the haunted mansion theme to supply the needed atmosphere.   Her first book, In a Dark Dark Wood, was my least favorite but they were all good reads.   I do love it when I discover a new author and find she churns out a new book every year that I know in advance will be good.    So often I pick up a promising thriller in the library, start into it and then abandon it from sheer boredom.      

The Turn of the Key is told in first person, which is not my favorite, being so limited in scope, but somehow it works.  The young protagonist isn’t even all that likable, as many of her heroines aren’t, and they’re not always the brightest either.    If someone offered you a nanny position with high pay, but you knew the four previous nannies had quit, would you take it on?   You would if you were poor and struggling….and had another reason.     Scotland seems a popular locale for books these days but there isn’t even that much about it in the book.   At the center is the house with its modern Smart technology – the owners are IT/tech specialists who travel extensively (thus the need for the nanny), so the house is equipped with all the bells and whistles to control everything from lighting to music to locks.    Well, someone is controlling it….   

The annual hospital lottery Dream Home in my neck of the woods is equipped with all the latest technology, and although I intend to buy a ticket I’m not sure I would want to live in such a place.   It creeps me out knowing that Smart TVs and Alexa are listening in on our conversations, but perhaps I am too old-fashioned and you grow used to all these modern devices and wonder how you ever lived without them.   I’ve noticed that many of the protagonists in her books tend to have a wee bit of a drinking problem.   This is a plot device which started with The Girl on the Train but the fuzzy alcoholic memory thing has been overdone IMO.    Or perhaps it is just a reflection of the popularity of binge drinking among young women.   I don’t know, we never had the money or the inclination for that type of recreation.   (Note – the protagonist in The Woman in Cabin Ten is drunk throughout the whole cruise).    Other than that small criticism, the plot here is nicely revealed and the ending well done although perplexing in some ways.   Technology is great but it can sometimes make life more complicated.   Perhaps there’s something to be said for old haunted houses full of ghosts who aren’t too Smart….

Fairbanks mansion

25 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – A Modern Gothic Mystery

  1. Anne says:

    I have not met this author before and am sure to look out for the novels you have recommended. I agree with your assessment of the ‘drinking problem’ that is becoming so prevalent in books featuring young women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest (non-fiction) book Talking to Strangers, and he had a whole chapter devoted to the topic of binge-drinking among young people especially women and how common it is. I was shocked and puzzled as to why anyone would consider drinking until you black out to be fun?

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      • Anne says:

        Me neither, but then I hardly had money enough to indulge anyway when I was a student and my children kept me on the hop as a young mother … The Gladwell book sounds interesting too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I’ve read several of his other books, but am not sure what the point of this one was, as the chapters seemed so diverse, but it was an interesting read. I read the whole book during our 7 hour stay in ER when my mom was being admitted. I got quite a bit of reading down at her bedside – it helped to pass the time.

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    • Joni says:

      Thanks Dave! Hope you enjoy it. It has quite a twist at the end. I often wonder how authors think of these things – I know I wouldn’t have the imagination for it.

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      • Joni says:

        In my older age I’ve grown to like crime thrillers and murder mysteries….something my younger self would never have read. I like to be surprised. The genre I hate is fluff romance like Danielle Steele etc – if I can predict the ending I don’t want to read it.

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  2. Ally Bean says:

    This sounds like a novel I’d enjoy. I don’t know that I’ve consciously read a gothic mystery so maybe it’s time that I should. Thanks for the literary salon today. ‘Tis a lovely way to end the week– or start the weekend I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lindasschaub says:

    You did a thorough review Joni – you have definitely missed your calling as a professional book reviewer, i.e. a newspaper or magazine would work well for you. This does sound like a good read and it was the perfect week to curl up and stay inside … the weekend will be cold, but snow free … that would be fine by me, except our streets are still very icy. You can’t have it all weather-wise, but who wants this the second week of November?! Better stock up on books because I heard again today that it is going to be a bad Winter, January/February especially.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda. It was a quick one to do as I did read a lot of books during my WP absence, and I have a few ahead if the weather is bad. I read a whole John Grisham novel last Monday during the snowstorm, sometime I seldom do as I usually just read before bed. It is depressing that it’s so early, and isn’t even melting……not looking forward to 4 or 5 months of this but what can we do??

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        You’re welcome Joni. I like John Grisham – have not read him for years, but really enjoyed his first novel which made him so famous and I think they made a movie of that novel if I remember correctly. May have read the second novel too, but I am so behind in reading, having not read for ten years. Since I am in the “biz” it made it more enjoyable as to Grisham. I once read a book on a snowy Christmas Day – finished the entire book in one day and amazed myself. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving and reading to my heart’s content – I told you I splurged and bought several books in October, despite those in the tubs downstairs. I am hoping nothing disturbs me. I have bought a small book light to take downstairs to read on the bike too … it has been too cold to go downstairs so far because I close the door to the cellarway/basement to keep it warm in the kitchen where I work all day, so going in the basement it is like going to a meat locker sometimes, especially after this brutally cold week – it is just 22 here with a real feel of 18 – I don’t know if I’ll wait til later or just go now to the Park a couple of blocks over and walk there – no pathway, just walk laps in the Park. I hope it gets to near 50 next week as they suggest, but don’t hold a lot of hope out for it – it is discouraging and I keep hearing about January and February being so bad. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        John Grisham has a whole list of books now….30 or more? One each year. His last was called The Guardians, and was about a lawyer who job is to try and get innocent people out of jail. It was good. I sometimes wonder though about the US justice system after I read his books though – so much corruption and mishandling of cases etc. I hope that doesn’t reflect real life. I also wonder how he does it, when he hasn’t practiced law himself in decades, maybe he has a lot of lawyer buddies who keep him informed of all the latest scandals and schemes. It’s 18 this morning, (5 with the windchill) and looks like a nice sunny day until you poke your head out the door. Taking my mom for groceries then we are going to watch that WW1 documentary which finally came in at the library. This morning I’m editing my kitchen reno blog for next week. I’ve finished off the drafts I had already started, but am now out of idea for Dec. blogs – oh well, something will come to me, it always does. I have only gotten caught up on one blogger so far, JP, so maybe I’ll just take Dec. off and catch up on Reader.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I didn’t realize he didn’t practice law anymore, but yes, all those books, he is on easy street now. There is a lot of corruption that goes on and appeals all the time – in fact there is a guy about to be executed that just got a stay after many appeals because he still said he did not commit a murder in 1996! And our mayor of Detroit (Kwame Kilpatrick) in jail until 2037 for bribery and obstruction of justice, just lost an appeal the other day – he claimed his lawyer mishandled his defense because “he heard his attorney thank the judge for the nice wedding card” … this was wrong. That makes no sense – it was his attorney so why would this “thank you for a card” be wrong. He lost the appeal, one of a string of appeals he has lost since going to jail in 2013. He gave the City of Detroit a big(ger) black eye than it had. Hope you enjoyed the movie … it looked powerful and moving. I will look forward to reading about the reno and seeing the pictures. Why don’t you write about the toys that we had when we were young – remember you/I were talking about how simple toys entertained us like “Colorforms” and paper dolls that you punched out of paper doll books – I think we called them “cutouts” not paper dolls. And there were magazines like McCall’s that had Betsy McCall every month. You can get pictures of the cutouts and colorforms on Pinterest which has everything. Include Barbie and Ken and Midge too – wasn’t there a Scooter too? I think it would be fun. We had no electronics back then, the most modern toy we had was an Etch-a-Sketch or that “Doodle” that there was a figure and you had a magnetic pencil with metal shavings that you dragged around with a stylo pencil to give him hair or a moustache. And Slinky, Mr. Potato Head and Silly Putty, a xylophone … these were toys that kept us entertained for hours.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I’m assuming he doesn’t practice law but maybe he does part-time? I don’t know how he would have found time to write all those books. I should google it. I don’t know anything about your mayor but he sounds like you know who in DC. I have been watching some CNN this week and it is unbelievable he can still have supporters??? The DVD was powerful and sad and moving and haunting – 90 minutes that went by in a flash – I kept picturing my Uncle Charlie. I think I did Christmas toys the first year I blogged, but I can’t find the link. I know I’ve blogged about Midge and Skipper, Barbie’s BF and little sister. I will probably just do two in Dec – one pictorial Signs of the Season, and a Literary Salon book review on Dickens. Maybe you could do the one on toys! Sounds like you have it all sketched out!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I used to like the “law shows” (Judging Amy, Special Victims Unit, Law and Order, L.A. Law, The Practice, NYPD Blue – so many good shows and my mom/I taped them as most were on the same time, 10:00 p.m., and we got a second TV/VCR that was in the basement to tape those on at the same time and then watched them on the weekend, and rented movies on holiday weekends or in the Summer when our favorite shows were in reruns. I thought that film would be moving Joni. I have two ideas for Christmas but could incorporate that into the holiday season as well if you don’t do it. My aim will be too get 1,400 posts by year end … this is just to note it along with my walking total – not to crow about it like “look how many posts I have” … just as a side note, so as of right now, before today’s post,. I have 13 or 14 more posts to go and am going to finish a post now before I head out to walk, (a little later to not have ice and if it is still icy, I won’t go as we will reach the mid to high 40s this week). I have another four Fall posts to get out and I still have some Summer photos I took and they will wait til next year because, although they are not “evergreen”, it isn’t really holiday-type posts and they will help to fill the long Winter ahead when I won’t have as much to write about. After the new year, I am not going to post as much, maybe two times/week unless something really special comes up. I need to push away from the computer and try to ride the bike some more, read more – I bought a book light hopefully to accomplish that purpose and you know I indulged and bought some books to treat myself (early Christmas present and some art materials, the rest of the Christmas present to myself). I have to get “moving around” more – I am worried about all the excess sitting … a fellow blogger (Tom Peace, the macro photographer), had a heart attack three weeks ago. Tom is a vegan and has been since 1973, is retired, exercises on his bike daily – he was healthy, but heart disease is in his family. Mine too – my grandmother and her 8 siblings died from heart disease – I think I mentioned that to you last year. I need to get more done inside/(next year outside) the house while the weather is crummy and that will be my NY’s resolution. I have not been sitting the entire day on the weekends except for in the car to be better about standing/not sitting. Next year I hope the weather is better for walking – this weather, with its ice and snow, have not been great for walking at all. I will think on the toys – I know I have the pictures for it – if not this year, next year for sure … I have used some pics but can re-use those with Barbie, Thumbelina, the xylophone, doll carriage … ah, the good old days.

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      • lindasschaub says:

        Hmm, well that shoots that idea – I do remember reading this post and enjoying it as so many things were the same with my childhood, the only difference being that I was an only child. I think those toys made you use your imagination … well, you can add some memories of your own and link to this post … you can write a post on holiday baking. Remember I did that last year? I am no baker, but I was mentioning shortbread to a fellow blogger and said my mom made two types of shortbread for years: breaker shortbread cake (made it solid, then broke it into chunks and it tasted/looked like Walker’s shortbread cookies which we bought the last five or so years of my mom’s life) and then those petite very white-colored shortbread cookies, very buttery with red or green candied cherries on top. So I found her the recipe and that morphed into that baking and cookies post which was fun doing. i used to run a bakesale at work when we were at the Firm – it started after the Ethiopian famine … I organized it, and the Firm matched all monies which were sent to the Red Cross – even the attorneys brought in goodies, some home baked by themselves or wives and others stopped and brought in danish or donuts – didn’t matter, everything was a quarter and on the honor system. https://lindaschaubblog.net/2014/11/30/cookies-for-a-cause/

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