The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

>> Monday, August 27, 2018

TITLE: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
AUTHOR: Ruth Ware

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Gallery/Scout Press

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Mystery

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.
I loved Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the mystery very much (and kind of get all the Agatha Christie comparisons in the marketing), loved the setting, and thought it made some interesting feminist points, if in a non-obvious way. I meant to read her backlist asap, but I never got to them, and instead was tempted by her new release.

In The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ware seems to be channelling not Agatha Christie, but Daphne du Maurier.

Harriet Westaway is a young woman getting on by her wits since her mother's death a few years earlier, right before she turned 18. She makes a living doing Tarot readings on Brighton pier (she's under no illusions that she's a real psychic or that there's anything supernatural going on, she just learnt from her mum how to be excellent at cold reading). It's not a very good living. She's in desperate need of money, not just because she's at the point where her utilities are about to get cut off, but because she owes money to some very nasty people, and they're getting ready to collect, whether it's money or a few teeth.

At that point, Hal gets a very unexpected letter. A lawyer contacts her regarding the death of her grandmother, Mrs. Westaway, and asks her to come to her estate in Cornwall for the reading of the will. A quick google of the name of the house shows a picture of a proper mansion, so clearly there's a fair bit of money there. This could be an unexpected respite for Hal, as even a small bequest will allow her to keep her head above water. The problem? This particular Mrs. Westaway was absolutely not Hal's grandmother. But Hal is desperate enough that she decides she'll put her cold reading skills to use and travel to Cornwall all the same.

Trepassen House turns out to be a crumbling old pile, complete with an odd, rude housekeeper, full of ominous warnings. And family, quite a bit of family. There were three brothers, in addition to the missing sister whose daughter Hal is purporting to be, and they're all there, two of them with their families. And as Hal starts to get to know them, she begins to get queasier and queasier about her plans. Particularly because things turn out to be much more complicated than her simply getting a few thousand quid.

And soon, it becomes clear that Hal's getting that letter was not simply a mistake. There are lots of secrets to be discovered, and digging into them could be very dangerous.

I loved this book to pieces. I loved the characters, I loved the mystery, I loved the setting and the gothic atmosphere, and I loved how this turned out to be much more than just a fun Gothic thriller.

Not that it wasn't a great Gothic thriller. It was. The atmosphere was fantastic, and I particularly loved how Ware used the tarot theme throughout the book. There's a faint hint of the very slightly supernatural at some points, in a way that felt just right and enhanced the ambiance beautifully. And the mystery was just great, with twists and turns that kept the plot ticking along at a perfect pace. I did guess one of the plot twists relatively early (a particularly convoluted one, too -I'm very proud of myself), but this did not lower my enjoyment of the book even a tiny bit.

One of the things that made this much more than a bit of fun were the characters, most of all Hal. It may be because I listened to the audiobook (amazing narrator, BTW), but Hal felt real to me. She wasn't just a plot device to deliver Gothic thrills and chills. She was not just real, but someone I cared deeply about. Right from the start, I was with her. When she received the letter and decided what she was going to do, I had no qualms, even though she was setting out explicitly to con the Westaways into thinking she was the heir. Clearly Ware was concerned that this could be a problem for some readers, because she took great pains to reassure readers that Hal is a good person, really, it's just that she's in a desperate situation! To be honest, I think she lay it on a bit too thick there. I would have been with Hal without all the justifications. Her feelings about the situation she was in were ones I understood and identified with, and I also understood her actions, at every single point. There's also always a simmering sense of grief about her mother, whom she misses desperately even after a few years, and that comes through stronger and stronger as the book progresses. When I got to the end of the audiobook I felt a little bit in mourning myself. I wanted to stay with Hal for a bit longer, reassure myself she was going to be fine.

The other element that elevates this above "just" a Gothic thriller is that while on the surface, this is pure fun, almost old-fashioned in its construction, it's not. To me, it became clear as we were coming to the end that this is very much a book of today. It's about female friendship and about how sometimes other women enforce the worst elements of patriarchal attitudes. It's also about horrible entitled masculinity and its effects. Those points are subtly made, but they really land. They don't detract from the enjoyable Gothic feel, but make it mean more than you may think at the start.

I think I may have found a new autobuy author.



Wendy 28 August 2018 at 01:34  

Well, crap. You went and did it. I was less enamored with Woman in Cabin 10 but this sounds intriguing and OMG, I LOVE Gothics. Off to put myself on what I'm sure is a ridiculous wait list at work.

Rosario 28 August 2018 at 04:37  

I hope you like it better than Woman in Cabin 10! :) And if the waiting list is any shorter for the audio, that's really, really good...

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