The Boy at the Keyhole: A Novel

  • By Stephen Giles
  • Hanover Square Press
  • 304 pp.

A quiet, twisty tale of madness and possible murder.

A lonely 9-year-old boy. A stern housekeeper. A missing mother. An almost-empty English mansion. These are the underpinnings that gently crescendo to a stunning climax in this tale of a mind’s imbalance.

But whose?

In 1961, Samuel Clay’s father dies, leaving the family scrambling to keep their steel business afloat. Samuel’s world shifts again when he wakes up one morning to find his mother, Margot, gone. According to their housekeeper, Ruth, she has traveled to America to secure financing for the business and left Ruth in charge of running the house and raising Samuel.

As days and months pass, Samuel becomes obsessed with his mother’s return. The only thing that gets him through his misery are the brief postcards his mother sends from each American city she visits. No letters; no telegrams. Just the postcards. Samuel takes comfort in plotting his mother’s progress in an atlas with pins and strings.

Flashbacks of Samuel’s mother plague him day and night. Surely, she must miss him, he tries to convince himself. But what about those times when he was little, clinging to her as she tried to pry his arms from her waist? “A mother who would sail to America…and never once care enough to write. Such a woman could never be his mother. She would be a monster.”

On the 115th day of his mother’s absence, Samuel’s perspective changes when his best friend, Joseph, suggests she might be dead. Just like in the news story Joseph heard about, Ruth might have murdered her to claim their beautiful home for herself. After all, why would his mother leave in the middle of the night without saying goodbye?

“The story about the housekeeper who had murdered the family she worked for and hid their bodies in the cellar was fixed in his thoughts, crowding out everything else…Sometimes a person hears a thing, and it binds itself around you so tightly that there’s no ignoring it. The worst part was it made sense.”

The possibility of murder tortures Samuel; he searches for clues to prove Ruth's villainy and tries to find where she hid the body. But Ruth is watching.

As Samuel’s fixation monopolizes every thought, he discovers that Ruth has been keeping secrets. Spying on her is tricky, but that’s exactly what Samuel decides to do. He is determined to prove that his mother would never leave her little man without saying goodbye, even though a hidden stack of letters written by her suggests otherwise.

During his surveillance, Samuel catches Ruth rummaging through his mother’s belongings, not once, but three times. Since Ruth always punishes Samuel severely for lying, he can’t understand how she herself is allowed to lie without punishment.

When Samuel confronts Ruth, she tells him he’s losing his mind. But Samuel is convinced her words are a ruse to cover up her crimes. The clues proving Ruth’s guilt build, until, on day 121 of his mother’s absence, Samuel finally acts.

“The boy’s mind, a malignant thing, grew quiet and still then. Perhaps he didn’t understand what it all meant.”

This clever psychological thriller reads like a quiet introspection into the vivid imagination of a young boy. Is he going mad? Or does Ruth expertly skew the facts to make it seem that way? Tension builds as small details are revealed one by one, the story slowly building to a surprise ending that will leave readers saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”

K.L. Romo loves noisy clocks, fuzzy blankets, anything pink, and all things Santa Claus. And she HATES the word normal. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Inc., the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association, and the Writers’ League of Texas. Please visit her at www.klromo.com or on Twitter at @klromo.

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