The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Harriett “Hal” Westaway, a twenty-one-year-old tarot card reader on the Brighton West Pier, avoids her mail, full as it is with “Final Notice” bills and tries to hide, with little luck, from loan shark Mr. Smith’s enforcers. When she receives a notice from a lawyer based in Penanze that she is a beneficiary of the estate of Hester Westaway, her grandmother, she couldn’t be more relieved. The only problem is that her Westaway grandparents have been dead since before she was born. Yet, armed with her extraordinary cold reading skills, she believes that she can con the family and save herself from her penury, not to mention broken teeth and bones at the hands of Mr. Smith’s goons. But, meeting the Westaway clan, Hal senses that deep secrets underlie their civilized and polite exteriors. As she gets closer to uncovering these secrets, she finds she is in more danger than she could imagine.
The book includes descriptions of tarot cards and tarot card readings which I found fascinating, and accompanying that, characters consider superstition versus suspicion and fate versus free-will. Magpies factor into the story in the form of the “One for sorrow…” poem, an infestation of magpies at Trepassen House, Mrs. Westaway’s estate, and a tattoo Hal has in memory of her mother. I thought, though, that this symbolism was not as effective as that that came from the tarot cards.
Hal was an interesting character, forced to fend for herself when her mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident when Hal was just two weeks shy of turning eighteen. Other characters view her as reticent, and she refers to her external presence as mouse-like, but her spirit and her determination are fierce. Other characters were less developed, and I couldn’t understand the motivations of some of her new “family” members, but all of them had some bit of complexity or nuance.
This was definitely my favorite Ruth Ware book thus far, and I found it engaging and well-written. I think her fans will be pleased with this title, and readers who like Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins should enjoy it as well.
Ruth Ware’s website includes more information about this and other titles.
As is often the case, the UK edition of the book had a different design. I like the American version better. What do you think?