What’s it about?
Harriet Westaway is struggling to make ends meet, eking out an existence as a fortune teller on Brighton pier. So when she receives a letter telling her that her Cornish grandmother has died, she senses a way out of her troubles.
There’s just one problem: her grandmother died twenty years ago. However, her problems are of significant enough magnitude for her to go along with it, in the hopes that she’ll inherit something to tide her over.
But there are consequences to this decision, and soon Harriet becomes embroiled in events that could cost her everything, even her life.
I picked this up on the train to Copenhagen airport, and I put it down roughly 5 hours later at home in York. It’s been a long time since I found a book that was truly unputdownable, but this is one.
I was a little wary of approaching it; I wasn’t a fan of the other Ruth Ware novel I’ve read, The Woman in Cabin 10. I previously said I’d read more of Ware’s books, but I hoped she’d think the plot through a bit more. With this one, I reckon she has. Her style remains very readable, but there’s a bit more thought in how events play out.
It also helps that she appears a bit more familiar with the locations she’s writing about, unlike in her previous novel*. Happily, the locations in this new novel seem more researched. Having said that, I’ve never been to Brighton or Cornwall, so I’ve got no real frame of reference, but it would seem daft to make similar factual errors in different novels.
In terms of the plot, I enjoyed it. The fortune telling was new to me, and it was a nice change to have a protagonist who doesn’t work in marketing or journalism. I found the character of Harriet (Hal) to be sympathetic and believable, and I empathised with her new family struggles. I didn’t guess the twist (fully), and it reminded me a little of Agatha Christie in how she neatly dropped clues in and let them develop. Actually, I said The Woman in Cabin 10 reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express, so maybe that’s Ware’s style. There were also echoes of Rebecca in the crumbling Cornish mansion and the motley family crew.
With regards to the other characters, I liked how distinct they were, and how they had their own stories. Often I find that second tier characters in crime novels are just there to provide padding, but these had their own events unfolding too. However, I did find the housekeeper character, Mrs Warren, a little too reminiscent of Mrs Danvers for comfort. Perhaps Mrs Danvers is so synonymous with unfriendly housekeepers that any version less than matronly is derivative, but more distinction would have worked.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, for sure. If you’re after a readable modern crime novel with echoes of Christie and du Maurier, this is for you.
The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware is published by Penguin priced £12.99. The paperback is out January 2019.
I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.
*In WiC10, the ferry leaves from Hull dock, and she gets the train there. Now, if you’ve ever been to Hull, you’ll know that firstly, the station is nowhere near the ferry terminal, and secondly, to walk across that dock is to take your life into your hands. You just wouldn’t do it.