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The Death of Mrs. Westaway


The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Ruth Ware’s intricate, atmospheric murder mysteries have drawn apt parallels to Agatha Christie’s work. Her new novel, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY, will rightly strengthen those comparisons, as it includes a creepy country house, a mysterious inheritance, tarot card readings, and plenty of deception of all sorts.

Twenty-one-year-old Harriet “Hal” Westaway is right on the brink. Ever since the death of her mother in a hit-and-run accident three years earlier, she has struggled to stay afloat. She lives in the same studio apartment she once shared with her mother, and has taken over her mother’s successful business, telling fortunes and doing tarot card readings on the pier in the English seaside town of Brighton. But even the most successful resort town business is still seasonal in nature, and Hal has had to struggle to make ends meet. Now she’s dealing with a stack of overdue bills and, even worse, increasingly threatening notices from a loan shark from whom she borrowed money and has no good way to pay back.

"Though set in the present day, the novel feels timeless --- further cementing Ware’s reputation as a skilled mystery author writing in a classic vein."

That’s why it seems like a minor miracle when, amid all those past-due notices, Hal receives an official notice from a solicitor. The grandmother Hal didn’t know she had has passed away, and Hal has been named as a beneficiary in the will. She is more than a little confused --- the names involved don’t match up with what little she has been told about her single mom’s upbringing --- but she is, quite frankly, desperate. So she spends her bottom dollar on a train ride to Cornwall and arrives just as the Westaway family is gathering for Mrs. Westaway’s funeral.

Hal is uneasy about deceiving the Westaways, especially when the amount bequeathed to her in the will is far greater than she (or the rest of the Westaways) were expecting. However, as a practiced tarot card reader, Hal is skilled at discerning body language and teasing out the questions and motivations of strangers. The more time she spends with the Westaways, the more she begins to suspect that she’s not the only one engaging in a potentially dangerous deception.

Set largely in a claustrophobic, aging manor house in Cornwall, this book is a bit of a homage to the creepy, atmospheric novels of Daphne du Maurier. Even though there’s no supernatural element to the plot, the inclusion of tarot card readings and tarot symbolism helps escalate the mounting menace that Hal uncovers during her time in Cornwall.

Family secrets, uncertain parentage, feuding siblings, mistaken identity, and a possible murderer in their midst --- THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY offers plenty of twists and turns as Hal tries to disentangle the messy Westaway family history, and figure out more about herself at the same time. Though set in the present day, the novel feels timeless --- further cementing Ware’s reputation as a skilled mystery author writing in a classic vein.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 30, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway
by Ruth Ware