The Boy at the Keyhole

Hanover Square: Harlequin. Sept. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781335652928. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781335005465; ebk. ISBN 9781488098611. F
A neogothic set in a downward-spiraling manor house in midcentury Cornwall inhabited by nine-year-old Samuel and housekeeper/nanny Ruth, who owes much to Cinderella's stepsisters, this novel keeps readers turning the page almost in spite of themselves. Samuel's father is dead, his steel business foundering, and Samuel's mother has gone to America for months seeking funds, with no correspondence. The problem: Samuel's mother never told him she was leaving, and he so dotes on her that in her incommunicado absence, his febrile imagination decides that Ruth has murdered her. Thus it plays out with various machinations by Samuel to find the "truth" and parry the mean, overbearing, and violent Ruth to thwart him. Could Ruth have done it? This claustrophobic novel features an old house and a cast of two (oh, a few side characters), neither terribly psychologically developed. The abrupt ending is somewhat ambiguous, with a tacked-on chapter in a police station raising more questions than answers, leaving readers to ask, wait, shouldn't there be more here?
VERDICT Enjoyable reading along the way despite the abundance of clichés, but the sudden denouement is a letdown.

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