Well that was a creepy read! It is odd but somehow I always associate the creepy aspect with historical novels, after all we are too aware of the present in modern times to get spooked by an old crumbling house complete with scary housekeeper, aren’t we?
Ruth Ware is one of those writers who really knows how to create an atmosphere and so even though the greater part of this book is set in the present and that in the past only dates back to 1995, I was drawn into a world of the improbable with barely a question.
Hal (Harriet) Westaway is broke. Not the sort of broke that afflicts most twenty-somethings on a regular basis but the sort that means she is in danger of losing the only home she’s ever known, and perhaps not without damage since she’s in hock to a loan shark. She returns home one night to find a letter, one from said loan shark (or one of his mates) and one from a solicitor in Penzance who claims to have a bequest from her Grandmother who has recently died. Only problem is that Hal’s grandmother wasn’t Hester Westaway and she certainly didn’t live at Trepassen House before she died.
Of course we take a trip to Trepassen House for ourselves and find a property that is almost a character in its own right. It’s the full gothic experience complete with barred windows and secret messages and of course the very creepy housekeeper. Not quite what Hal is used to. Ok she may be in dire straits money wise but she plies her trade in reading Tarot cards on Brighton pier and her home is the only one she’s ever known. That’s not to say Ruth Ware doesn’t impress on her readers the difference of this seaside pier in the winter time, having its very own atmosphere. Safe to say she’s slightly out of her depth in this situation. Hal’s mother died and it’s her business Hal has inherited but her mother wasn’t one to mince her words, always reminding Hal:
Don’t fall into the trap of believing your own lies.
This story despite obviously being set in the present, something the author embraces rather than tries to disguise, has an old-fashioned quality to it. The sense of danger is only all too imaginable when you put yourself in the shoes of a young woman with no money even if she is someone who is not an out-and-out innocent. Normally I find myself getting highly irritated by characters who do stupid things – I’m sat tutting and shaking my head saying ‘well what did you think was going to happen?’ but somehow this author had me bought into the storyline so that, under the circumstances, the decisions seemed plausible. There are shades of Daphne Du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith but fear not this story is an original.
I can’t leave this review without stating quite how brilliantly Hal is portrayed. This definitely isn’t a one-dimensional character, she is made of shades of grey with all the complexities that real people have, something she is never more aware of than when she is reading the tarot cards for her eager audiences.
I highly recommend this book which is perhaps more suited to an autumnal evening with the rain lashing down, but fear not, I was chilled despite lying in the sunshine devouring every last word of this masterpiece.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Death of Mrs Westaway which is published today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course Ruth Ware for the thoroughly entertaining read.