Wednesday 13 September 2023


Book review: The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin [blog tour]

When I saw that The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin isn't only a murder mystery but a tête-bêche as well, I was instantly sold. This is a type of novel made up of two separate books that are linked in unexpected ways, one story providing clues to the mystery within the other. It may sound a little confusing at first, but it is a very clever and fun way to read a novel. Some of my all-time favourite books, Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz, are great examples of this innovative storytelling format – so I had high hopes for this one too!

1881. London doctor Simeon Lee travels to the remote island of Rye in England to help his distant relative Parsons Oliver Hawes, who is suffering from a mysterious illness. The old mansion, Turnglass House, is home to just Parsons, or so Simeon thinks. But he soon finds out that the islands' harrowing past of death and murder is continuing until the present day and Turnglass House is at the centre of it all.

1939. Ken Kourian is an aspiring actor in Los Angeles. He befriends writer Oliver Tooke, who lives with his family in a glass mansion on the Californian cliffs called Turnglass House. Everything seems rosy until people start dying... Ken is quickly pulled into a family mystery spanning generations, subtle clues of which are hidden in Oliver's latest novel. And the answers seem to all point to Rye, an island in England where Oliver's grandfather Simeon lived before emigrating to the United States.

The Turnglass can be read in two different ways: either alternating the chapters of the two stories, or reading one story after the other. I opted for the latter. As both parts of the mystery take place in historical settings, I thought I needed a little more time to fully familiarise myself with the locations and names, and alternating chapters would probably confuse me a little. 

That said, I can totally see how this this novel would work with alternating chapters as well and I'd love to reread it that way now I know the locations and characters much better. In both 1881 and 1939 there are written accounts of the other story, and they're very intricately intertwined to echo the revelations in tandem with what's happening in that particular timeline. It's all very clever. 

A tête-bêche novel is a really fun reading experience, but it must be very tricky for a writer to achieve and make sure that none of the clues get revealed prematurely or are inconsistent. In my version of the reading experience it all worked perfectly though, and there were a few instances where I was able to solve the mystery just before the characters did, which made me feel really smart (even though, I realise, that's probably exactly what the author intended). 

Despite the stories mirroring one another and being undeniable linked, they felt very distinct and really got the sense of place and time period down very well. The 19th century storyline in England was much grittier and dark, whereas the 20th century one in America had the feeling of old Hollywood glitz and glamour. My favourite was the more recent story, but perhaps that's also because I read it second and so all the clues of the puzzle started to fall into place for me quicker. 

Because this novel encompasses two different stories, yet isn't any bigger than an average book, I did crave a little bit more depth and character development from both of the storylines. They were probably novellas rather than full novels, and this seems to be quite common within this format. So I understand it's a lot to ask for two full books into one but it did left me wanting more. Not a bad thing per se, and very much a personal preference but a fair heads-up for those unfamiliar with the format. 

The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin does exactly what it says on the tin. You can turn the book over like a turnglass and engross yourself in two different worlds at the same time. Or you can, like I did, treat them as two separate novels, reading one after the other, and marvel at the clever ways the two stories tie into each other with hindsight in place. Either way, you'll be in for a wonderful reading experience with two solid mysteries at their core. Will you be able to figure out the secrets of the Turnglass Houses in both timelines before the characters do? 

The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin is published by Simon & Schuster and you can buy your own copy now!

Blog tour stops for The Turnglass by Gareth Rubin

This review for The Turnglass is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure to check out the other stops too!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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