Books & Literature

Book Review: The Boy at the Keyhole, by Stephen Giles

Nine-year-old Samuel begins to suspect foul play when he wakes one morning to be told by his housekeeper that his Mother had to go away on an overseas trip without any prior warning or saying goodbye.

Imagine you are a nine-year-old boy living in a manor estate and you awake one morning to be told your Mother has had to go away on an overseas trip. She has left overnight without a word and hurried off to America, to seek support in saving the family business – at least, that’s what the housekeeper has told you.

If you’re anything like young Samuel, one of the book’s two central characters, your mind has already begun to race with notions of foul play. Such is the nature of The Boy at the Keyhole.

Set in 1961, which is stated but otherwise inconsequential, this brief novel revolves around the tense, volatile and, at times, hostile and aggressive relationship between young Samuel and Ruth, the housekeeper (in the unwanted role of guardian). The book begins 113 days after the departure of Samuel’s mother and the young boy’s constant questioning about her whereabouts and likely return is wearing on Ruth’s nerves.

Into the mix comes a number of peripheral characters, including Samuel’s friend, Joseph, who all plant the seeds of doubt that grow like vines within Samuel’s psyche. What is behind the various locked doors of the manor house? What secrets are Ruth keeping from Samuel? Did Samuel’s mother leave, or does she still reside in the house…perhaps, in the cellar?

Bit by bit we are drip-fed truths, some direct, some not so, to the point where even the reader could be forgiven for questioning what they think they know. Over 260 pages Giles weaves a traditional Gothic-style tale of the young boy and his housekeeper. With twists, turns, revelations and reveals, it moves at an odd pace – both sluggish, yet swift, and resolves, quickly, without clear resolution.

The Boy at the Keyhole is Giles first adult novel and its film rights have already been sold. In point of fact, this reads like a cinematic treatment – but don’t feel you need to wait for the movie. It is likely you will be waiting more than 113 days…and Ruth is impatient.

Reviewed by Glen Christie

Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
September 2018
RRP: $29.99 hardback

Rating out of 10:  7

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