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The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a recent mystery novel by Ruth Ware, author of The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and The Lying Game. The story tells of Harriet Westaway, nicknamed Hal, who receives a letter out of the blue informing her she’s been named in the will of a relative. Since the death of her mother, Hal has been on her own, without any knowledge of any other family. Fueled by need, Hal goes to the funeral and meets the family, where the secrets of the past begin to unravel.
Review: Plot, Pros and Cons
The Death of Mrs. Westaway begins with Hal, a girl in her early 20s living on her own in Brighton. Hal makes a living by reading tarot cards on the pier, a job she took on when her mother died three years prior. She lives in the same apartment where she grew up, working the business her mother ran, and barely making enough to pay the bills.
Hal’s stress has been growing. Colder weather is bringing the slow tourist season and a loan shark is after her. With little money and nobody to turn to, she’s running out of options. Then, one day, Hal receives a letter from a lawyer informing her that her grandmother has died, she’s been named in the will, and is set to receive a piece of the family estate. The trouble is Hal doesn’t have any family. She looks through all her mother’s papers, hoping for some kind of connection, but finds nothing.
Nonetheless, Hal decides to attend the funeral and find out about the money. Through her work as a tarot card reader, she has honed her skills of reading people and their lives, without giving too much of herself away. Hal hesitates, not necessarily wanting to deceive strangers and commit fraud, but feeling she doesn’t have any other option to get some cash. Plus, she thinks if anyone can pull it off, it’s her.
Hal arrives at the funeral, where she meets the lawyer and family. After the service, they return to the family home, called Trepassen, where Hal learns she is set to receive a much larger inheritance than she thought. As she gets to know the family better, she begins to doubt her plan. She also knows that something isn’t quite right. Hal begins digging into the family’s past and unearths many surprises along the way.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway has a different tone than some of Ware’s other books. It feels more like an even-paced mystery than a page-turning thriller. With that said, it’s still an unputdownable novel full of twists and turns that will leave you guessing until the end.
Here we have some discussion topics and questions for your book club. They’re not too specific, so as not to spoil any of the book for those who may not have finished it yet.
- When Hal receives the letter informing her of her inheritance, she isn’t sure what to do. What would you have done in Hal’s position?
- Hal makes her living as a tarot card reader, a skill she learned from her mother. What do you think of tarot cards? Have you ever done a tarot card reading? What happened?
- The novel reads, “The people who came to her [Hal’s] booth were seeking meaning and control — but they were looking in the wrong place. When they gave themselves over to superstition, they were giving up on shaping their own destiny.” Do you agree? Why or why not? What do you think motivates people to be superstitious?
- Magpies are an omnipresent symbol in the novel. This begins with the book’s epigraph, where we find the old saying, “One for sorrow / Two for joy / Three for a girl / Four for a boy / Five for silver / Six for gold / Seven for a secret / Never to be told.” Discuss the significance of magpies in the story.
- There are several references to Agatha Christie’s work in the novel. Even the title is Christie-esque. Discuss the influence of Agatha Christie in this novel.
- Mrs. Warren is a curious character. Discuss Mrs. Warren’s personality and her role at Trepassen. How do you explain her behavior?
- Were you surprised by the ending? Why or why not
- The French phrase “après moi, le déluge” is important in the novel. Discuss its meaning and significance in the story.
- Despite the fact that her name is in the title of the novel, we don’t know much about Mrs. Westaway. What do the other characters say was Mrs. Westaway like? What do you think of her? Why do you think she crafted her will the way that she did?
- What do you think happens after the conclusion of the novel?
The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an addictive mystery novel with a healthy dose of family drama. With it’s engrossing story, characters, and plot twists, it’s a great option for your book club!
Have you read The Death of Mrs. Westaway? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading! Cheers!