The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
The premise of this book is very different than my normal reads. Yes, it is a thriller and I read thrillers all the time, but throw in a broke tarot card reader and a (possibly) mistaken identity and you’ve got the premise of a novel I’ve never read anything quite like. The real meat of the story begins when Harriet (Hal) receives a letter indicating that she has been left some sort of inheritance from her grandmother, Mrs. Westaway, who recently passed away. Hal is fully aware that her grandparents died long ago, but weighs her options and decides heading over to the funeral sounds more promising for her future than dealing with her crippling debt and the creepy men who are after her to repay the loans she took out after her mother died.
Hal shows up at the Westaway estate and meets Mrs. Warren, the housekeeper, who shows her into a room in the attic and leaves her for the night. One detail that stood out to me about this book was the way the estate itself is portrayed. Described as a decrepit, sprawling mansion, the house also has a name, Trepassen (the similarity to the word ‘trespassing,’ did not go unnoticed) and is referred to as such throughout the story. The naming of the home aids in a personification, and thus, the fortress becomes its own character, a sort of antagonist who is with Hal throughout her adventure. I love the way the house comes alive in this narrative, and the way it embodies the secrets of Hal, her mother, and her grandmother.
When Hal comes downstairs from the attic on her first morning in the house, she meets Mrs. Westaway’s three sons, Ezra, Harding, and Abel. None of them seem particularly shocked that a stranger is in the house, my first major qualm with the writing. This detail aside, I was completely sucked into the storyline once it got underway. Hal’s narrative is interspersed with diary entries that are unlabeled, and therefore allow the reader to (potentially incorrectly) assume who wrote them. I love the way these segments were interwoven, it made me feel like I was uncovering the secrets of the Westaway family along with Hal.
The ending of this novel definitely caught me off guard. I found it a little bit extreme– the ultimate antagonist, Ezra, seemed to suddenly become a totally different character, and although we hear snippets about his angry outburts throughout the story, I wasn’t totally sold. He ended up being a really, really terrible/murderous person, and that just hadn’t come through in the slightest up until the last few chapters. Even so, I couldn’t read fast enough once Hal started to unwind the mistaken identity between Maud, the Westaway sister who disappeared, and Maggie, Hal’s mother who lived with the Westaway children for a time, although I did find it somewhat hard to follow who was who towards the end.
There were a few loose ends I thought needed wrapping up, like what happened with the men chasing Hal down to repay her loan, and why Abel and his previously unimportant wife Mitzi were suddenly so unbelievably open to Hal coming to live with them, but the writing was magnetic, nonetheless.