Twenty-one-year-old Hal tells fortunes on Brighton pier. She ekes out an existence – just about enough to continue to pay the rent on the small seaside flat that she shared with her mother, who died three years ago. With no family or friends to speak of, she finds herself in dark financial waters. That is, until, a miracle arrives – a letter detailing of a long-lost grandmother who has bequeathed her a sizeable fortune.
Hal knows it must be a mistake. But in the depths of her despair, she decides that perhaps – just perhaps – she can make this work. Telling people what they need to hear is how she makes a living. So, alone, she takes the train across to Cornwall, arriving at the old lady’s funeral on a bitingly cold day, ready to assume her role as granddaughter.
Upon meeting her ‘relatives,’ Hal gets sucked into her fabrication. But something else is simmering underneath the surface. She knows that the house – having fallen into disrepair – and the bitter housekeeper Mrs Warren – are hiding secrets.
‘The truth had been a horror that she could not bear to face while she was alive. Instead her grandmother had waited until she herself was beyond pain – and unleashed this catastrophe on the living.’
It takes until the very final few chapters for things to come together – but unfortunately, things don’t really come together – at least not in a coherent or totally believable way. The plot meanders along and I found myself detached from the characters, getting mixed up between the brothers and lost in the threads of motivations.
‘And I thought – This is it. This is what I have been waiting all my life to feel, this is what those girls at school used to talk about, this is what the songs mean, and the poems were written for. This is it. This is it.
But the sun has gone now, and it’s winter, and I feel very cold. And I am no longer sure if I was right.’
Ruth Ware is a talented writer and weaves a good story, but The Death of Mrs Westaway fell short on this occasion – too much of a slow-burn, and more of a drama than psychological thriller. For an example of Ware’s fantastic storytelling, I would recommend instead The Lying Game.