Harvill Secker | 2018 (28 June) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Harriet (Hal) Westaway is at her wits’ end. Since her mother died, Hal has eked out a living reading tarot cards and telling fortunes on the pier at Brighton. But she’s got nothing left and now a loan shark is after her. Then, out of the blue, a letter turns up from a solicitor offering her sympathies for the death of her grandmother and advising her that she is one of Mrs Westaway’s beneficiaries. But Hal’s grandparents died over twenty years ago. This isn’t possible. They’ve got the wrong person. But what if she were to pretend to be the right person?
As Hal makes her way to Trespassen House in western Cornwall for the funeral, her feelings are in turmoil and they only get worse when she meets Mrs Westaway’s sons and their families, not to mention their terrifying housekeeper. It’s so easy to be sucked into this life, to tell one more lie, but there’s something unloved about this decaying once grand house. And in its overgrown gardens and cold rooms, secrets refuse to stay hidden.
The Death of Mrs Westaway is such an atmospheric and moody read. This is largely due to the setting, which is wonderfully visualised by Ruth Ware. Trespassen House is remote, it takes trouble to reach it – and to leave it – and it affects everyone who has ever lived in it. This is a creepy and disturbing tale and it grips from the outset.
What I enjoyed more than anything, though, is the novel’s heroine, Hal. Hal is a fantastic creation. She is believable and is always very likeable. She is facing impossible choices and it’s hard to blame her when life has become such a struggle, through no fault of her own. Despite having very little, she is generous and kind to a fault, and when she does her tarot readings she believes that she must care for her clients, that she’s doing them some kind of service to move their lives along. The members of the Cornish Westaway family are also memorable but more than anything they are curious and I enjoyed getting to know them.
This is a psychological thriller and so we’re given twists and surprises but I actually found the mystery secondary to the setting and the characters. I guessed much of what was to happen but it didn’t matter because I was enjoying Ruth Ware’s writing so much. I’ve liked some of Ruth Ware’s novels more than others but The Death of Mrs Westaway is certainly one of my favourites and a real return to form after The Lying Game. I love atmospheric reads, especially when they’re set in this part of Cornwall that I adore so much, and The Death of Mrs Westaway is an immersive pleasure from start to finish.