*** Possible Spoilers Ahead! ***
**There will be a summary in this review. I have now included the summary at the very bottom of this review so that you can read my thoughts and my recommendations BEFORE the review. Please do not read the entire review if you want to avoid all and any spoilers.***
Book Title: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Author: Ruth Ware
Main Theme: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Psychological Fiction
Thesis: Harriet Westaway, or “Hal” to most people, is a 21-year-old girl who is just trying to make it to the next day. She owns a tarot reading booth, inherited from her recently deceased mother, alongside the pier. She is a hard worker but lands herself in a bit of hot water from local loan sharks. Without the money to pay them back, she starts to grow panicky, until a strange letter comes. The letter claims she is in the will of her late grandmother, and that she is invited to the reading of the will. Hal realizes that this must be a mistake, as her only grandparents died well before she was born, but with a little digging around, she discovered that this family is rich, and could be the answer to her problems. She decides to travel to the estate, and in doing so, uncovers a family that is nearly always at each other’s throats, a huge, decomposing estate, and several secrets that will change the game for Hal. The only problem? Someone doesn’t want Hal there. And Hal must stay and figure out the clues to her, and her mother’s, mysterious past.
What Drew Me In: I’ve always been a fan of a good, creepy book. Not like one of those slashers types, or the “I’m pulling your guts out of your belly button” kind of books, but rather, something mysterious, forlorn, and downright creepy, enough to send shivers down your spine. I suppose I inherited that from my mother, whose love for Stephen King passed down to me. (Let’s talk about Carrie! I love that book!) This book has been sitting on my library’s shelf for a while now, and every person who snagged it before me has recommended it in some way. I know that her other bestseller, “The Woman in Cabin 10” is highly praised, and so one day, after bringing an armful of books back, I snagged a copy.
My Thoughts: In the beginning, I felt like the story was a bit slow, but I appreciated the author’s attempt to really let us get to know Hal’s story. I have to admit, Hal is a much harder worker than I am. I can imagine myself at 21-years-old and working the way she does, under her circumstances. I really enjoy this character throughout the book. In my opinion, this is a great book to read, especially on a rainy day with blankets around and a good cup of chai tea. Ware pulls you into this story, and you can’t beat a classic, straight out of an old Hollywood thriller book like this.
The only thing I didn’t like, which might be mundane to say, is that the loan sharks never really seemed to be a problem throughout the story. Aside from the scare of one of Mr. Smith’s men showing up in her tarot card booth, you never hear back from them. No calls, no messages, nothing. She even came back to her flat after leaving the Trepassen House, and no sign of forced entry, or ransacking of her personal belongings. Towards the end of the book, they were all but forgotten, and while I’m happy that Hal doesn’t have to experience anything traumatic in that department, it felt like a useless detail towards the end of the story.
Would I recommend this book?: I would highly recommend this book for people who enjoy a good thriller. Is it Stephen King disturbing? No. If you enjoy a book full of rampaging guys in masks and chainsaws, this probably isn’t the book for you. But definitely a good read for those who enjoy turning on the lights as we make our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Summary: Hal was not your normal 21-year-old girl, rather, she was just a young woman surviving each day suddenly on her own. After her mother’s death, Hal inherited her mother’s tarot card booth on the local pier and focuses on paying the bills on time. Short on cash, and with loan sharks looming around, Hal discovers a letter from a lawyer, telling her that she is invited to the funeral and reading of the will of a late grandmother, Mrs. Westaway. Hal knows that this is a mistake, as her only grandparents died years ago. But with the threat of Mr. Smith and his goons, Hal takes her chances and buys a train ticket to attend the funeral in Penzance.
On the way, she learns as much as she can about the family, who they were, how they were supposedly related to her. At the funeral, she manages to keep her head tucked down from curious stares, but her predicament took an unexpected turn as the lawyer reads that Hal was to inherit the entire estate. The family, rightfully shocked, begin drilling into the will, the lawyer, and Hal, desperate for understanding. Hal realizes that she couldn’t possibly get away with this, because if she is caught, she would surely be arrested for fraud. Unfortunately, due to this unexpected surprise, Hal finds herself staying at the Trepassen House until this mess was sorted out. While there, she has a chance to meet more of the family, like the three brothers, Ezra, Harding, and Able, who are constantly at each other’s throats, and their partners and children. She explores the house, which is a sprawling mansion that is in an unfortunate state of decay. She bumps heads with the caretaker of the house, Mrs. Warren, who is mean and hates pretty much everybody. And along the way, she discovers more clues on the past of this house and her history. She knew she was connected to the Westaways, but how?
Uncovering old pictures, journals, and talking to a former maid revealed to Hal that her mother had indeed grown up in this house, but Hal couldn’t figure out how she got there. Turns out, Hal’s mother, Maggie, came to live at the Trepassen House with her cousin Maud, after her parents died. Maggie soon became pregnant, and the two cousins fled the house when Hal’s father did not do anything to help her. Maggie and Maud lived together until Maggie decided to return to the house to face Hal’s father, who turned out to be Ezra, Maud’s twin, and was killed in a murderous rage by him. Although Maud didn’t have significant proof, she figured that there was an accident, and took over raising Hal, not telling her who her real mother was and pretending to be her biological mother in an effort to protect her. Ezra, after years of not knowing where Maud was, finally found her in Brighton and killed Maud in a hit-and-run accident.
As Hal figured this all out, she was alone in the Trepassen House with Ezra, and with Hal knowing his secrets, Ezra tried to kill Hal too, but she managed to escape to outside, where Ezra slipped on the icy lake, falling into the cold water and drowning. Hal called the police, and after numerous reports filed by them, the story ended with her, Able and Harding’s wife Mitzi, at the hospital, promising Hal that she is a member of their family and will be by her side.