Imagine you’re a young boy whose father has died. Your mother is away looking for some money to keep the family business going. Imagine things disappearing from the house. Imagine you’re lonely and the only news of your mother comes in the form of short postcards from the across the ocean in America. Imagine there’s never a return address or a place you could call to speak to her. Imagine the months going by. and one by one, the other people in your life are going away, the maid laid off, the gardener’s time reduced. Your uncle is absent and the only constant in your life is Ruth Tupper, a rigid housekeeper who sometimes is so scary mad you think she might kill you.
What kind of things might you also imagine when your mother does not return for months? It might be easier to imagine Ruth killed her than to imagine she just doesn’t love you. The Boy at the Keyhole imagines all of that and it’s terrifying.
The Boy at the Keyhole succeeds almost too well in capturing the thoughts of a child’s mind. Samuel circles around his suspicions a lot, his thinking is roundabout and circular at times like a child. This can make some of the books seem a little slow, but then I think we need that to pace ourselves for the nights Samuel lays in bed, trying so hard to pretend to sleep as Ruth ominously comes in to check on him. His fear is so real and so fraught with real jeopardy that it needs to meander a bit to remind us he is a child. Samuel is a complex child, a loving son who is desperately missing his mother, perhaps all the more intensely since even in memory she was more absent than present. Ruth Tupper is equally complicated, she feels a deep obligation to the family and Samuel, but then she is so rough with him, so hard and cruel at times.
This is one of the few thrillers that surprised me at the end. Really surprised me. I probably should rate it higher but I am mad at the ending. It might have been a lesser book, more trite and predictable, with just about any other ending, but dang it. This is not what I wanted.
I received a copy of The Boy at the Keyhole from the publisher through NetGalley