Hal Westaway is working as a tarot reader on the West Pier in Brighton Beach, doing what she can to scrape by. But just because it’s winter and off-season doesn’t mean the loan shark she borrowed a paltry sum from a few months ago stops sending notices.
So when she gets a letter informing her of her grandmother’s death and her place in the will, Hal has a choice to make. Of course, she knows that her grandparents have been dead for years, and the names don’t match, and she is not the Harriet Westaway the executor meant to contact. But… she also doesn’t know how she’ll come up with the 3,000 pounds a very scary man will be coming for in a week.
A very scary man is a very scary thought and a powerful motivator. Hal takes the train north to Trepassen House, her “grandmother’s” estate, to meet her “uncles” and hopefully get a few hundred pounds to ease some of the debt. She’s got a birth certificate ready to fake and a dummy Facebook profile to read up on the other Westaways before she arrives. But old Mrs. Westaway had something different in mind….
A confession: I often look up the plot of thrillers about 50 pages in. It is a terrible habit and I don’t know why I do it. So usually I can’t comment on how surprising the twists and turns of suspense and thrillers are, as is the case here.
I’ve read from Ruth Ware before: first The Turn of the Key, which I listened to and found so nervewracking that I had to stop listening to it at night; then The Woman in Cabin 10, which I thought was fine but a little disappointing; and her most recent book One by One, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think Ware executes most ideas well and is a pretty solid choice if you’re looking for a new thriller author, but I don’t necessarily think she’s a break-the-mold type. Which is fine, but I could see her plots getting formulaic if you read them too close together.
I liked Westaway well enough, although it’s definitely not my favorite of hers. I would have loved a little more scenic imagery and heightening of emotions, but this is one of her earlier books and I think she gets better over time.
One gripe to pick with a character’s actions: Hal is literally destitute, can’t afford to waste any money. But one of the first scenes has her donating 60 pounds that a client mistakenly overpaid her (and couldn’t be reached) to charity! Not even taking her cut from it! The scene is supposed to show that Hal is principled and won’t take money she didn’t earn, so that she really has to grapple with her choice later on, but what it showed me is that she’s stupid! 60 pounds! That could have paid her bills or bought her food! No principles are worth getting beaten up by a very scary man!
I also found myself annoyed with the audiobook. I think the book is a little long and drags especially in the beginning, which is only more clear when you have to listen to someone read every… word… aloud. I ended up switching to a physical copy about halfway through.
All in all, I wish I would have started with this one, so that Ware’s later works seemed like a natural progression. I don’t think I’ll be picking up any of her other backlist titles, but I will probably read anything new she puts out.