The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Family ties…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Hal (Harriet) Westaway is struggling to keep her head above water. The bills keep pouring in and in these winter months she doesn’t get enough custom at her kiosk on Brighton’s West Pier to pay them all. Things are reaching a crisis. So when she receives a letter from a solicitor informing her that she has been left a legacy by her grandmother it seems like the answer to a prayer. There’s only one problem – Hal knows there’s been a mistake. Her real grandmother died years ago. But the temptation is overwhelming, and Hal knows that the skills she uses in her tarot-reading will help her to con her way through the situation. And so she sets off to Trepassen House in Cornwall, to meet a bunch of people who think she’s the daughter of a long-lost relative…

I know I’m very critical of modern crime fiction but truly I don’t ask much. A good story well told; some characters I can like, hate, worry about, mistrust; enough uncertainty about how it will play out to keep me turning pages; a minimum of unnecessary padding; and told in the past tense, preferably third person. And that’s exactly what Ruth Ware has given me in this hugely enjoyable thriller. Add in a dark and dusty old house full of attics and cellars and narrow little staircases, the shade of a wicked old woman who tyrannised over her family, a bunch of squabbling siblings, and a scary old housekeeper who knows more than she’s telling, and I’m pretty much in modern-Gothic heaven!

To be honest, I had a fair idea from pretty early on of the solution to the central mystery, but I found it didn’t really matter. There was enough doubt in my mind to keep me reading, and I didn’t know how it would all come to a head. Although it’s a fairly slow-burn book, and quite long, I found the pacing was just about perfect. I never felt my attention dip, nor had that sensation of wishing it would all hurry up and get to the end. This is because the quality of the writing makes it a pleasure to read, and the characterisation is great, with a sufficiently large and well-developed cast to provide a lot of interest. And the creepy old house itself becomes a character too – a deliciously scary one.

I loved the way Ware manages to make Hal so likeable and easy to empathise with, despite the fact that she’s trying to commit fraud. Hal’s mother had died a few years earlier when Hal was just about to finish school, leaving her penniless and with no relatives to help her out. This makes her financial woes understandable and we see at the same time that she’s doing everything she can to get her life back on track. She doesn’t believe in the mystical side of tarot herself, but is nevertheless sympathetic to the people who consult her, doing her best to give them the space to think through the problems that have brought them to her. And while initially she goes to Cornwall purely for the money, she can’t help beginning to wish she really was part of this big family with aunts and uncles and cousins – all the things her lonely heart craves.

The other characters are just as good, though obviously not all done with the same depth. I loved that Ware makes room for a lot of kindness and generosity of spirit amidst the danger and evil – something modern thrillers often forget to include, but it makes the whole thing more emotionally involving, I find. Plus, for me there’s more tension to be got out of a feeling of “oh, I hope it’s not her/him!” as there is in simply wondering which of an unsavoury bunch will turn out to be the guilty one.

Ruth Ware

This was my introduction to Ruth Ware, goaded on by the relentless stream of glowing reviews for her previous books from so many of my bloggy friends, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What a pleasure to read a book written without all the stylistic fol-de-rols so many contemporary authors seem to think necessary – a strong story well told doesn’t need “creative writing”, just good writing (FF’s Ninth Law). Highly recommended – I’m off now to get hold of Ware’s earlier books!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

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46 thoughts on “The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

  1. I’m currently reading Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 so I can say that this too is a well-told story written in the past tense (hurray!) with lots of tension and suspense. But I have no idea of the outcome and I have little sympathy for the main character, but this certainly doesn’t detract from my enjoyment. I can see that I’ll be reading more of Ware’s books too.

    • Oh, that’s good to hear because that’s the one I was thinking of going for next. I’m so hesitant now about contemporary crime, so I was relieved to actually love this one! I think you’ll like it too when you get to it… 😀

  2. So glad you enjoyed this one, FictionFan! I keep hearing such good things about it, and it does sound intriguing, complete with a creepy house! I ought to get to know Ware’s work, and it sounds as though this might be a good place to start.

    • This was the one that appealed most to me from the blurb and finally broke down my world-famous resistance! And I’m glad it did. I think you’d really like her too. I’m looking forward to getting to her earlier books…

  3. So happy to hear that you enjoyed this one! I’ve read all of Ruth Ware’s books and this might be my favorite. I did like the others – not the third quite so much, but I don’t want to discourage you. My little Gothic-beating heart loved this old house and story though. It harks back to earlier days in my reading life and that is always a good thing for me. Good luck with her others when you might chance to try them.

    • It was the blurb of this one that appealed to me too, and the cover, both of which made it sound deliciously Gothic. The blurbs of the earlier ones didn’t appeal quite so much, but now that I’ve sampled her writing, I’m keen to give them a go. Such a pleasure to read a book in third person past tense apart from anything else!

  4. Thank you for the review. I’m so glad that you liked this one, it’s nice to know I have something to look forward to. It looks I’m #88 on the library hold list.

    I wasn’t wowed by The Woman in Cabin 10 and while I did like In a Dark, Dark Wood, the blurb for this one sounds like it is my cup of tea. I just got the Lying Game from the library yesterday but haven’t started it yet.

    • Hah! I suppose so many people being on the hold list must be a good sign! I must admit the blurbs for her earlier books didn’t appeal to me as much as this one, which was why I resisted temptation till now. But now that I’ve enjoyed this one so much, I’m eager to backtrack. I saw mixed reviews for The Woman in Cabin 10 though – maybe I’ll go for In a Dark, Dark Wood first…

  5. I read one of her books and also thought it was predictable but okay. However, this setup sounds like one that would never actually happen or that is a trap in some way for the heroine.

  6. Wonderful review, FF! You have made me want to try Ruth Ware again! I only “liked” The Woman in Cabin 10. It got a little draggy for me, but I think I will give this one a shot. I love reading about your enjoyment of it!

    • Thank you! 😀 I must say the blurb of this one appealed to me more than her earlier ones which is why I resisted temptation till now. But I did like her writing style very much, so I’ll be intrigued to see whether the earlier ones work for me too or if this was the exception. If you do go for it, I hope you enjoy it!

  7. I’m absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed this one so much – you even starred it higher than I did!!!
    You hit the nail on the head with the kindness of some of the characters, it does make a huge difference to the story if everyone isn’t being awful all the time!

    • I know! I was worried when you only gave it four! Of course, it got an extra star from me just for being in the past tense… 😉

      Yes, I did like the way some of the characters were actually nice to each other and even seemed to love the people they were married to and such-like. So refreshing…!!

  8. I love your Ninth Law, FF! This sounds like one I can ill afford to miss! Wonder why I haven’t heard of her before? Oh, well, nothing like starting the week by adding to my TBR!!

    • I think it should probably get promoted to being the First Law actually! She’s been huge over here the last couple of years but maybe she hasn’t travelled over the water so much yet. Definitely one your TBR will thank you for… 😉

  9. yay! I’m so glad you liked this one, I did too. My review will come in a few weeks-it’s already written but I won’t post it for awhile. We touched upon many of the same things, ableit your review is much more thorough than mine hahah

  10. I really enjoyed The Woman in Cabin 10 as an audio book. I know you’re doing more of those, so you may wish to find that format instead of a hard copy. I’ll be reading In a Dark, Dark Wood this month and hope it’s just as good as it sounded when I listened to an interview with Ware on NPR. I distinctly remember it because around the same time there were rumors on NPR that Trump was thinking about running for office. Halcyon days, indeed.

    • Ha! Trump running for office makes all these thrillers and horror stories seem quite tame! 😉 Oh, I must check out the audios – I’ve been having a little break from them recently just because I have so many print review copies to cope with, but I was thinking it was time to get back into them. I can’t decide which one to go for first though – both In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 appeal…

  11. Really interested to read your review especially when I saw you’d given it five smileys! I was a bit “meh” about the author’s debut – it was good but didn’t blow me away but now I’m DEFINITELY keen to read this!! 😁 Fantastic review as always 😘

    • Thank you! 😀 This is the only one I’ve read and it was the gothic feel of the blurb and cover that drew me in. I’ll be backtracking to her other books, but I still think this one will probably turn out to be my favourite. Hope you enjoy it! 😀

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