*Just a gentle note, this review may contain small spoilers*
This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for a long while. I love the title – how good is Westaway as a name? And the cover also intrigued me. Orange is my favourite colour and I think it’s a gorgeous design – a cover that really attracts your attention to make you want to find out more about the book… I haven’t read anything from Ruth Ware before but I was aware of her and how popular her books are so that was another reason why I thought I’d try this book. So, along with other books, I got this out of a Waterstones gift card. So, what’s it all about? Here’s the blurb:
When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial estate 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 on some cash fast.
There’s just one problem – Hal’s 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 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…
In all honesty, I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand, I thought it was a good character-driven family drama that while it was slow, there was some good things in the book and the end had me gripped. But on the other hand, I really liked the start but then I found it a bit dull in the middle and found myself not really caring about the characters or the story. At times, it felt like an am-dram performance of an Agatha Christie novel. I think it was when Hal arrived at the house to meet her ‘family’. The characters of Harding, Mitzi, Abel and Ezra just seemed a bit… a bit of a cliche (including the ridiculous names). I get what Ware was doing – these are from literally a different world from Hal. And Ware wrote that well. Hal is young, broke. She’s struggling to make ends meet. From saving every bite from her fish and chips to making sure she has enough heating on in her flat. Where in the big grand house, Hal is in another world, another class with people she wouldn’t normally associate with. I liked what Ware was doing there but I think it could have been expanded a bit more and fleshed out instead of the typical cliches.
For me, the strongest part of the book is the start with Hal in Brighton on the Pier. My favourite scene is when she’s giving a tarot reading to the old woman who’s struggling to deal with her son who’s taking drugs. I could see every moment clearly – the rain on the pier, the statue of the dog, Hal running across the cold and wet pier. But then it just turns out cliche after cliche, starting with the loan shark. I found the dialogue a bit lumbered and heavy-handed. Ware’s greatest strength in the entire book is Hal. I can tell that she has worked hard on Hal as her main character. I really felt for Hal in the beginning; she was a character that I was rooting for and got behind. But at times, that felt slightly but overall, Hal is a great well-written character and established well by Ware.
Perhaps because I’m not a massive reader of gothic thrillers, this book doesn’t strike a chord with me. When reading, all I thought was: This would work better as a TV series. As a book, the pace was a bit slow for me and I know that’s the point but it was just a bit too slow. And most of the time, it was just going round and round in circles. I liked the diary entries and I thought they mirrored will with Hal’s narrative of looking for answers. But this book is supposed to be a ‘thriller’ but I don’t think it’s a thriller at all. It’s a family drama with a mystery at it’s centre. It’s only a thriller in the end and I think there could have been a bit more going on overall in the plot to make it more of a thriller.
I guessed the ending of the book quite early on and it didn’t disappoint me either. I was satisfied with ending but I did still have some questions hanging in the air over Hal’s mother but like I said, I was satisfied with the answers given. After finishing this book, I like it more than I did – it was a bit flat and even dull at times but there was enough intrigue with Hal as a character to keep me reading and to figure out the ending. But there is a lot of cliches here – perhaps that’s what Ware is doing – playing with these Gothic tropes – but they just didn’t work for me. Perhaps it would work better as a mini TV series. Hal is a great character and I can tell Ware worked hard on her but I just wished there was more work made on the other characters for me to care enough about them.
Have you read The Death of Mrs Westaway? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!