A creepy mystery filled with family secrets. 4/5 stars.
Thank you to Random House UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.
The blurb: When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.
There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.
Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…
With her latest book, Ruth Ware brings us a different angle on the disappeared person mystery. Rather than a professional or amateur sleuth digging to uncover the truth, our investigator is Hal, a young woman attempted to con her way to an inheritance.
Fans of mystery tales will get into and feel at home with this story quickly because it contains so many familiar elements from other stories in the genre. For example: the Agatha Christiesque large house, an extended family gathering and a will reading. There are also knowing touches of du Maurier, with one of the characters actually saying that the spooky housekeeper is a bit Mrs Danvers! The author exploits these features to keep us guessing, setting us up for the story to go in one direction before swerving off in another.
The protagonist – Hal – is a reluctant con artist and her situation wins our sympathy. I enjoyed the mostly practical, proactive way she went about ingratiating herself into the Westaway family and investigating her past. The use of tarot was interesting as both a way to explain Hal’s people-reading skills, but also to give us insight into her personality and those of the other characters.
The writing is clear and vivid, making it easy to whizz through the book in an afternoon. In fact, I think the story would be best enjoyed with as few breaks as possible so you can stay immersed in the oppressive atmosphere of Trepassen House and follow the momentum of the story. Reading it in a couple of sittings also gave me a fighting chance of working out what was going on and I’m pleased to say I kept up quite well. There were several surprises, although none of them came as total shocks as Hal’s investigations had laid the groundwork for the reveals.
The tone and events of the narrative are spooky and chilling in places, but I think I was expecting more of a thriller. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a mostly a mystery with some darker spots, although right at the end there is a tense sequence as secrets are revealed and the story comes to a climax.
Overall: good holiday reading for anyone looking for a different approach to a traditional family mystery story.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul