The Boy at the Keyholeby Stephen Giles Published by Hanover Square Press on September 4, 2018
Genres: Adult, Family, Gothic, Historical, Literary, Mystery, Psychological, Psychological Suspense, Suspense, Suspense
Source: TLC Book Tours
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I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
An electrifying debut in the vein of Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, about a British boy who, after his mother is abruptly called away to America, begins to suspect that perhaps she did not leave, but was murdered—by the housekeeper who cares for him in the family's isolated country estate.
Nine-year-old Samuel lives alone in a once great estate in Surrey with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother has been abroad for five months, purportedly tending to her late husband’s faltering business. She left in a hurry one night while Samuel was sleeping and did not say goodbye.
Beyond her sporadic postcards, Samuel hears nothing from his mother. He misses her dearly and maps her journey in an atlas he finds in her study. Samuel’s life is otherwise regulated by Ruth, who runs the house with an iron fist. Only she and Samuel know how brutally she enforces order.
As rumors in town begin to swirl, Samuel wonders whether something more sinister is afoot. Perhaps his mother did not leave, but was murdered—by Ruth.
Channeling the masterful suspense of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and the haunting, claustrophobic atmosphere of the works of Shirley Jackson, The Boy at the Keyhole is an electrifying debut about the precarious dance between truth and perception, and the shocking acts that occur amid tightly knit quarters.
With cooler nights finally coming around here in Northern Illinois, a little Gothic suspense sounded good with the impending change in season–and Stephen Giles’ The Boy at the Keyhole certainly fit the bill. Set in the early 1960s in small town England, nine-year-old Samuel wants nothing more than for his mother to return home from America so he can be with family again. Instead, he’s trapped in a stuffy manor house with only a stern housekeeper looking after him, and mean, old Ruth practically suffocates him at every turn. Samuel only leaves the house to attend the local school, where he only has one friend, a boy named Joshua whose parents work at the neighboring estate. But this friend certainly doesn’t comfort Samuel much and instead convinces him that Ruth has gotten rid of Samuel’s mother so she can take over and be the lady of the house.
What follows is a page-turning psychological suspense told from young Samuel’s point of view in the third person. He certainly doesn’t understand adults and their motives, and he really doesn’t know why his mother would just leave in the middle of the night for America to pursue alternate funding for their foundering family business. Samuel is hurt that she never said goodbye to him, and he is lonelier than he has ever been since his father unexpectedly died a few years earlier. He gets hope in the form of postcards from across the states from his mother, allowing him to track her movements as she tries to gather funds from her wealthy relatives–but no homecoming date is ever given.
Ruth is a hard-nosed caretaker, and she has to take on a mighty task of running a household on dwindling money while taking care of a child that is turning out to be an imaginative, melancholic handful. She and Samuel clash constantly as he misses his mother more and more, and his distrust for Ruth and her motives leads to quite a suspenseful read leading up to a very climactic ending that I didn’t expect to go the quite the way that it did. Their game of cat and mouse turns out to be one hell of a power struggle, and while Samuel is a child and his behavior can be somewhat forgiven as being childish, Ruth’s abusive and manipulative behavior behind closed doors would get her sent to jail in modern times. But then again, the mother would be thrown in jail as well for abandonment and Samuel would be put in foster care as well if that were the case.
I give The Boy at the Keyhole a four out of five. The gothic, historical atmosphere of 1960s England made a great backdrop for this psychological suspense, and I really enjoyed seeing everything unfold through Samuel’s eyes. There is so much that goes on behind closed doors that no one speaks of, and as an adult I can perceive things for what they are while Samuel doesn’t understand what’s really going on. Stephen Giles does an excellent job of portraying Samuel’s innocent naivety to the subtleties of adult behavior and the harsh realities that they try to hide from children while trying to protect them. While it’s a slow burn throughout to get to the end, this book is just under 300 pages so it doesn’t feel that slow. I just had to see what happened to Samuel’s mother–and my jaw dropped when I finally saw what did indeed happen to her.
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About Stephen Giles
Stephen Giles is the Australian author behind the lauded children’s series “Anyone But Ivy Pocket”, penned under the pseudonym Caleb Krisp. The series, published in the US by HarperCollins/Greenwillow and the UK by Bloomsbury, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, has been translated into 25 different languages and was optioned by Paramount Pictures.
Prior to selling his first book, Stephen worked in a variety of jobs to supplement his writing including market research, film classification and media monitoring. “The Boy at the Keyhole” is Giles’ first work for adults and the film rights for this book have been acquired by New Regency.
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