Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Boy at the Keyhole, by Stephen Giles

 A staggeringly good psychological thriller.

 Stephen Giles' THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE is being marketed as his "first work for adults". This is one hell of a debut.....

 Coming from a background of children's fiction, Giles perfectly captures the voice and mindset of his main character, nine-year-old Samuel Clay, a lonely child who comes to believe that his housekeeper has murdered his mother. The novel is told completely from Samuel's point of view, and his story is both compelling and heartbreaking. With his father dead and the family business failing, Samuel's beloved mother leaves their English country home in the dead of night, sailing to America to try to raise funds to save their steel mill and estate. Samuel is left in the care of their emotionally distant housekeeper, Ruth, and as the months go by, with only the occasional postcard from his mother in America, he begins to suspect that perhaps there is something more sinister afoot: His mother would never willingly leave him, so what if she was murdered? What if Ruth is the murderer?

 Giles' story unfolds like a taut one-set play. The majority of the book takes place in the Clay home, with Samuel and Ruth center stage. A handful of other characters pop in and out, but the bulk of the story focuses on the emotionally fraught relationship between the child and his caregiver, as Samuel dwells on perceived oddities with Ruth's behavior and small clues that he picks up on, and Ruth grows less and less tolerant of Samuel's acting out. By focusing solely on Samuel's POV, Giles ramps up the tension, and offers a heartbreaking quandary for readers: Whether or not Ruth murdered Mrs. Clay, what can Samuel, who depends completely on Ruth, do about it? My heart broke for this poor child, scared and alone, obsessed with the possibility of a loss of unimaginable magnitude.

 There is some magnificent work being done here by Giles, and the story plays out like a claustrophobic stage play or a forgotten 1960's mystery movie. I can usually see the end coming a mile away, and Giles not only managed to deliver a few unexpected moments in the finale, but he also gave me a lot to chew over after I closed the book. I've seen other reviewers complaining about being confused by the ending, or else that the ending was a letdown, or too confusing.....without getting into spoilers, everything is there for careful, patient readers to find. I've gone over the ending two or three times since I finished the book, because it is so impeccably done. This is the kind of book that I'll be urging friends and family to read. Highly, highly recommended.

  THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE earns a nail-biting nine out of ten rabbits:

 Hanover Square Press provided a review copy.

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